Moscow Archbishop Accuses U.S. of ‘Direct Interference’ in Russian Elections

In a curious role reversal, a leading prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church has accused the United States of “direct interference” in Russia’s elections by circulating the so-called “Kremlin list” prepared by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“Surely, it is direct interference in the electoral process,” said the chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate department for External Church Relations, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, on Russian television. “Surely, it is direct pressure on Russian authorities and a wish to undermine the authorities.”

Described as “a bullet aimed at Putin’s heart,” the Kremlin list is a sort of Who’s Who of Russian oligarchs, containing the names of the top echelon of Russian government and business leadership.

The U.S. Treasury Department released the list of influential Russians with ties to the Kremlin in late January as required by a sanctions bill passed last year. Some Russian executives were reportedly afraid of finding their names on the list and went so far as to apply for foreign passports in order to escape sanctions.

Partly in response to perceived Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, which required the Treasury to draw up a list of Russian “oligarchs and parastatal entities” within 180 days.

Metropolitan Hilarion said that the list exerts direct pressure on Russian authorities as well as the electorate, but its real influence may not be devastating.

“People will go to elections, and each of them will make the choice as their conscience tells them,” the archbishop said.

“I think that the most correct reaction will be to ignore this step of the USA, though the state authorities will make their decision basing on Russia’s state interests,” he added.

The Russian Orthodox Church is not alone in believing that the U.S. Treasury published the Kremlin list with the intention of undermining support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Washington intends to use the Western-funded NGOs and media in Russia to interfere in the upcoming Russian elections,” wrote Paul Craig Roberts, the chairman of the Institute for Political Economy. “Washington does not want Putin to have the smashing victory that is expected. It is difficult to make a monster out of a person who has higher public support than any American president in history.”

Roberts, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy under President Ronald Reagan, said that the list “suggests the US government is going to take some kind of punitive action against the Prime Minister of Russia, against the Foreign Minister of Russia, against the Defense Minister of Russia.”

In point of fact, however, while the list names senior political figures and business executives “as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth,” it requires no actual sanctions for those included and has been described as something closer to “public shaming.”

The list also includes an assessment of the relationship between the individuals identified and President Vladimir Putin or other members of the Russian ruling elite.

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