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Sunday, June 26, 2022

From ‘Putin’s chef’ to the RT editor: names expected to appear on EU sanctions list | Ukraine

The EU has approved asset freezes and travel bans on various Russian people and entities in response to Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states.

The list of those targeted has not been officially confirmed, but here are five of the most prominent names the Guardian has seen on a draft list.

Sergei Shoigu

Russia’s minister of defence has overseen the military buildup on Ukraine’s borders and would manage the war effort if Russia chooses to launch a wider invasion. He is a rare member of Putin’s inner circle who did not serve in KGB, military or intelligence circles. He served as minister for emergency situations from 1991 to 2012, before being appointed defence minister by Putin with the task of modernising the Russian military.

Alongside Putin’s senior aides, Shoigu has been involved in key decisions, such as the annexation of Crimea, because of his oversight of the military and the aggressive GRU intelligence agency. He also has direct access to Putin, including during their regular hunting and fishing trips together in Siberia. Shoigu is from Tuva, a Buddhist republic in Siberia that borders Mongolia.

Yevgeny Prigozhin

‘Putin’s chef’ is the financier behind a network of paid trolls that allegedly tried to influence the 2016 US presidential election.
‘Putin’s chef’ is the financier behind a network of paid trolls that allegedly tried to influence the 2016 US presidential election. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The St Petersburg-based businessman has been dubbed “Putin’s chef” because of the restaurants and catering businesses where he made his fortune in the 1990s. Since then his business interests have expanded into government contracts and other endeavours, allegedly including a troll factory, a private military company, and global influence operations that have landed him on numerous sanctions lists.

According to the US Treasury Department, Prigozhin is the Russian financier of the Internet Research Agency, a network of websites and paid trolls that allegedly tried to influence the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump. Prigozhin is “also believed to be the financier behind [the] private military company Wagner, a designated Russian Ministry of Defence proxy force,” the Treasury department said. The company’s alleged activities in Ukraine, Syria, Sudan and Libya have “generated insecurity and incited violence against innocent civilians”, the Treasury Department said.

Igor Shuvalov

Shuvalov is head of Vnesheconombank, a key source of funding for the Kremlin’s projects.
Shuvalov is head of Vnesheconombank, a key source of funding for the Kremlin’s projects. Photograph: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

Igor Shuvalov is a Russian politician and businessman who is being sanctioned as the head of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian financial institution that is a key source of funding for the Kremlin’s priority projects. Those have included the Sochi Olympics, among others. Shuvalov was previously a first deputy prime minister in both Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin’s cabinets before he left government and was appointed chairman of VEB in 2018.

He was previously one of the most senior liberal figures in government until they were largely ousted in favour of Putin’s security hawks as his dominant advisers. Shuvalov, who was seen as a close Putin ally nearly a decade ago, has owned property in London and was targeted for his wealth by the jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who demanded a police investigation.

Maria Zakharova

Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson is a ‘central figure of government propaganda’.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson is a ‘central figure of government propaganda’. Photograph: Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

As tensions over Ukraine reached fever pitch last week, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova issued a “request to the mass disinformation outlets of the USA and Britain – Bloomberg, the New York Times, the Sun etc – announce the schedule of our ‘invasions’ for the coming year. I’d like to plan my vacation.” It was a typically mocking response from the chief spokesperson of Russia’s diplomatic service.

Zakharova is a career diplomat but isn’t very diplomatic. She has described a previous US ambassador as “incompetent”, said D-Day’s significance should not be exaggerated on the 75th anniversary of the landings, and joked about sending a journalist asking about human rights abuses in Chechyna to the region.

A graduate of the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, who speaks English and Chinese, she is feted in Russian state media for her combative style, evident in her torrent of Facebook posts attacking western governments. The EU has called her “a central figure of government propaganda”.

Margarita Simonyan

Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the RT network.
The editor-in-chief of the RT network is said to have a direct line to the Kremlin on her desk. Photograph: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

​​Margarita Simonyan was just 25 when she was chosen to be the first editor of Russia Today, the state channel broadcasting in English and other languages, later described by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, as an agency of “lying propaganda”.

Now known simply as RT, it has offered its small number of viewers in the UK guests from Jeremy Corbyn to Nigel Farage, conspiracy theories and baseless claims about “genocide” in Ukraine. Simonyan, now editor-in-chief of the RT network, is said to have a direct line to the Kremlin on her desk and was given an award by Putin for “objectivity” after the annexation of Crimea. She greeted reports of her imminent addition to sanctions lists with mockery. “Maria Zakharova and I took out our handkerchiefs,” she said, adding it was time to have “a little cry”.

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