The US Treasury's 'oligarch list' is strikingly similar to Forbes’ richest Russians ranking

  • All 96 oligarchs listed in the unclassified annex of the report, who have a net worth of at least $1 billion, can be found in Forbes' ranking of the "200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017."
  • The apparent similarity between the U.S. government-issued list and the Forbes ranking has already garnered ridicule on social media.
  • The department made clear that this was not a sanctions list, though many of the individuals on the list are already subject to U.S. sanctions.
A general view is seen of St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square ahead of the IAAF World Championships on August 6, 2013 in Moscow, Russia
Mark Kolbe | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images
A general view is seen of St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square ahead of the IAAF World Championships on August 6, 2013 in Moscow, Russia

The U.S. Treasury Department's list released Monday detailing 210 Russian oligarchs and close political affiliates of President Vladimir Putin bears a striking resemblance to a list of Russia's richest citizens published in Forbes Magazine in 2017.

In fact, all 96 oligarchs listed in the unclassified annex of the report, who have a net worth of at least $1 billion, can be found in Forbes' ranking of the "200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017."

The department made clear that this was not a sanctions list, though many of the individuals on the list are already subject to U.S. sanctions. Now it appears the list is simply a who's who of Russia's rich rather than an account of state-sponsored corruption, seemingly giving it less significance than originally thought. Forbes on Tuesday evening received email confirmation from a Treasury spokesperson that the unclassified report was "derived from open sources," and that the business magazine was indeed one of them.

"The fact the list of oligarchs released resembles Forbes' rich list, more than it does a public airing of organized corruption centered on the Kremlin, could mitigate slightly some of the concerns of those named regarding potential fallout," Max Hess, senior political risk analyst at AKE group, told CNBC Tuesday.

"The oligarchs' list criteria was merely a $1 billion net worth, apparently as reported in the media."

The report was set to be a serious headache for any named oligarchs, and had already triggered a rush of Russian companies issuing bonds over fears that being named would stifle their access to Western capital. Stocks of some major Russian firms fell as markets opened in Moscow on Tuesday morning.

The similarity between the U.S. government-issued list and the Forbes ranking has already garnered mockery on social media, and will likely attract criticism over the thoroughness of the Treasury Department's work.

"Seems like (it was) difficult for Treasury to distinguish so in the end (they) included everyone and then included a big disclaimer that 'don't worry sanctions are not imminent'," commented Timothy Ash, senior sovereign strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, in an email to CNBC.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Russian Federal Council's international affairs committee, wrote in a Facebook post that "US intelligence agencies, desperate to find the promised ... dirt on Russian politicians, simply rewrote the Kremlin phone book."

At least for now, it seems, some Russians might be breathing a sigh of relief — especially after President Donald Trump announced Monday he would not be applying new sanctions mandated by the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Parts of the Treasury report, which was mandated by Congress as part of CAATSA, remain classified and reportedly contain more names of individuals and entities, some of whom have a net worth of lower than $1 billion.

"The possibility remains that classified information submitted to Congress includes a more thorough airing of the oligarchic networks centered on the Kremlin, but a Russian business person's publicly-acknowledged wealth of course does not directly correlate to their closeness to the Kremlin," Hess noted.

Indeed, many of the names listed are in fact not friends of Putin. They include a number of people who have reportedly fallen out with the Kremlin and even some who have seen their businesses seized, like the billionaire brothers Aleksey and Dimitriy Ananyev.

Despite the rather unsophisticated nature of the oligarch list, however, its strength lies in "its underlying threat to impose specific sanctions at any time, and this will put pressure on those named," Tim Stanley, managing director for Russia/CIS at Control Risks in Moscow, told CNBC.

"The private businessmen listed are likely to be those most impacted in the short term, as they are likely to encounter further difficulties in their ability to conduct a wide range of commercial activities outside Russia," Stanley explained.

The Treasury's report release coincides with a sanctions deadline set by the CAATSA, which Trump signed in August only after expressing significant opposition to it. The president has declined to enact new sanctions on Russia as mandated by CAATSA, stoking anger from many members of Congress.

CAATSA aims to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and for its military intervention in Ukraine.