Russian Sanctions: Follow the Money
President Obama is hoping sanctions will punish Russia for its abuse of Ukraine, but there’s already one group that sanctions are helping: lawyers and lobbyists. Late last month, former senators Trent Lott and John Breaux signed on as lobbyists for Gazprombank, a financial arm of the state-owned energy giant, Gazprom.
In July, the U.S. sanctioned Gazprombank, effectively banning U.S. financial institutions from doing business with it. By August, according to a Senate filing first reported by the Center for Responsive Politics, Lott and Breaux were in business: they’re listed as the main lobbyists on the Gazprombank account for DC powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs, focusing on “banking issues and regulations including applicable sanctions.”
Lott and Breaux are not alone. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that 417 former members of Congress are registered lobbyists. Many “receive handsome compensation from corporations and special interests as they attempt to influence the very federal government in which they used to serve.”
Politico reports that Chevron, Exxon Mobile, Caterpillar, MasterCard and Visa, Xerox and Coca-Cola all are lobbying lawmakers on sanctions. So is the Russian natural gas company OAO Novatek. But Gazprom is in a class by itself. It supplies vast amounts of natural gas to Ukraine and much of Europe, while functioning as economic weapon in Vladimir Putin’s arsenal. Putin has used Gazprom to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine and pressure weaker neighbors; he has jailed Gazprom competitors and seized their assets. The Court of Arbitration in the Hague recently ruled that Moscow owed $50 billion to a Gazprom—and Putin—rival. The court ruled that the Russian government, in “serious due process violations,” had seized the assets of the oil company Yukos. Russia said it would appeal the ruling.
And the head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a popular and powerful opponent of the Kremlin ruler? Putin jailed him for ten years.
It’s been a rough year for Gazprom, with profits slipping and sanctions ratcheting up. Revenues likely will be down significantly from $140 billion in 2013. But there’s still plenty of money to grease the wheels of influence in Washington. With Lott and Breaux, Putin and Gazprom are off to a good start.