Why the U.S. is going after yachts and mansions of Russian billionaire oligarchs

How Russia's billionaire oligarchs became a sanctions target
How Russia's billionaire oligarchs became a sanctions target

From chasing down yachts to seizing Italian villas, the global effort to punish Russian oligarchs for their financial ties to Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine has been unprecedented. For its part, the U.S. has arranged its own special task force — known as Task Force "KleptoCapture" — within the Department of Justice to seize the assets of the Russian elite who try to evade sanctions.

"This time around, the effort to track down their assets is much greater," Timothy Frye, professor of post-Soviet foreign policy at Columbia University, told CNBC. "It'll take a long time to dig through a lot of the dodgy real estate purchases and the like, but there does seem some commitment to make that happen."

It's unclear, however, whether the oligarchs hold enough sway over Putin to prompt an end to Russia's ongoing barrage against Ukraine, experts say. Imposing the sanctions against the Russian oligarchs may also prove difficult given the U.S.' strong protections over property rights, Douglas Rediker, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told CNBC.

"I'm not privy to intelligence that is not public, but it is hard to point to the specific connection between at least some of the financial oligarchs and what is going on in Ukraine right now at the behest of President Putin," Rediker explained.

"That does not mean that their behavior has been squeaky clean or is defensible, or they are not guilty of a variety of alleged sins," Rediker said.

Watch the video above to find out how the Russia's oligarchs came to power, and whether global sanctions against the billionaires could help bring an end to the Russia-Ukraine war.