, 2022-03-04 02:00:00,
Yachts owned by Russian oligarchs — who have bought some of the largest and most extravagant “superyachts” on the planet — are gleaming symbols of how Russia’s elite have profited under the government of President Vladimir Putin.
Now, as Russian forces ramp up their deadly military campaign in Ukraine, the yachts are emerging as key targets of the US and European allies, who are vowing to seize property owned by Putin’s enablers.
Disputes are already erupting: French officials seized a yacht Wednesday night that they said was linked to Igor Sechin, a sanctioned Russian oil executive and close Putin associate, as it was preparing to flee a port. But the company that manages the ship denied Sechin was the owner. And the White House said German officials had seized another oligarch’s yacht in Hamburg, while local authorities denied any ships had been confiscated.
The French seizure shows that confiscating oligarchs’ yachts will require a concerted global effort — and it’s likely to mean protracted legal battles around the world, experts said.
In several cases, the billionaires’ yachts have been on the move in the days since the Russian offensive began.
Meanwhile, officials around the world are also enforcing sanctions on a far less flashy but still important group of vessels: oil tankers and container ships the US Treasury Department says are owned by the subsidiary of a bank with close ties to Russia’s defense industry. French authorities intercepted one of the cargo ships last weekend, and a Malaysian port refused to let another dock.
Sanctions and asset seizures “make it more difficult for the Kremlin to persuade capable people of getting involved in its activities and thereby weaken the grip of the Kremlin over elites,” said William Courtney, a former US ambassador and current executive director of the RAND Business Leaders Forum, whose members include Russian and Western leaders.
President Joe Biden put the Russian elite on notice in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
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