Washington’s Most Wanted

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On Sunday, the people of Crimea took to the polls for a referendum -- the fairness of which remains very much in doubt -- that ended with an overwhelming majority voting to break off from Ukraine and join Russia. Monday morning, the Crimean parliament voted to reaffirm that decision. The Obama administration responded a short time later with its most forceful response yet to the crisis in eastern Europe, announcing sanctions against 11 Kremlin insiders and Ukrainian officials tied to what the West sees as Crimea's illegal move to leave Ukraine for Russia (the European Union later added 10 more, including a senior Ukrainian navy officer who broke ranks and defected to the Russian side). 

Together, the 11 individuals targeted by the Obama administration make up a motley crew of key Putin advisors and Ukrainian officials accused of helping to spark the most serious crisis in U.S.-Russian relations in decades. Monday's sanctions, which include U.S. visa bans and asset freezes, hit at the upper levels of the Russian government but give Washington the ability to further escalate their response if the situation in Crimea deteriorates further. Putin and the chairmen of Russia's most powerful natural gas and oil companies are not among those targeted, for example.

Here's the who's who of Kremlin apparatchiks who on Monday found themselves in Washington's crosshairs.


Vladislav Surkov, presidential aide

It's a strange title, but the easiest way to describe Vladislav Surkov's role in Vladimir Putin's government might be as the strongman's post-modernist-in-chief. It was Surkov who created Putin's system of "sovereign democracy" through which the former KGB agent has consolidated and centralized power in the Russian Federation. That system, which has allowed Putin to amass enormous authority from his seat in Moscow, required a clever spin-doctor. Surkov fit the bill. He manufactured opposition parties to provide the semblance of a political counterweight to Putin, pressured editors at newspapers and radio stations to follow the approved editorial line, and provided the rabidly nationalist ideology animating Putin's political machine.

Then, Surkov was ousted from the Kremlin in 2011, a move that was interpreted as a concession to the previous year's virulent protest movement -- which had formed in reaction to the system Surkov had created. He spent a year as a deputy prime minister, then resigned amid a corruption probe. But four months later, Surkov, who is often called the Kremlin's "gray cardinal" in a nod to his power behind the scenes, returned to power, this time in a lesser role, as a presidential aide. In his new role, he has been charged with overseeing the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia recognized as independent countries after invading Georgia in 2008. Little is known about Surkov's exact role in the Crimean crisis, but he is said to have been involved in decisions that led to the Russian invasion and is reported to have met with pro-Russian leaders in Crimea. Here, Surkov can be seen alongside Russia's then-president, Dmitry Medvedev.




Sergey Glazyev, presidential advisor

Born in Ukraine during the Soviet era, Glazyev currently oversees Putin's effort to build an economic sphere of influence that he hopes will rival that of the European Union. That effort, better known as the Customs Union, stands at the center of the dispute over Ukraine's future. Pro-Western protesters now in control of the government in Kiev have firmly rejected Moscow's entreaties to join the union and would rather seek closer relations with the E.U. In his role overseeing Russian relations with Ukraine, Glazyev led the ultimately successful effort to push then-President Viktor Yanukovych to reject an economic pact with the E.U., a fateful decision that sparked the protest movement that eventually removed Yanukovych from power. Since Yanukovych's fall and the subsequent deterioration in relations between Russia and the United States, Glazyev has struck a defiant tone, threatening earlier this month that Russia will only profit from any potential U.S.-imposed sanctions. "We will find a way not just to eliminate our dependence on the U.S. but also profit from these sanctions," he said.




Leonid Slutsky, chairman of a powerful parliamentary committee 

Russia's rubber stamp legislature, or Duma, has played a key role in trying to ensure that Ukraine stays in Russia's orbit rather than forging closer ties to the West. Slutsky, the chairman of a Duma committee charged with overseeing relations with former Soviet satellite states and others in the region, has loudly parroted Putin's line that Russia has intervened in Ukraine in order to protect the rights of the latter's embattled Russian-speakers. "Everyone is for protecting ours in Ukraine, not to allow pushing the Russian language and the Russians behind the territory of Ukraine," he told reporters earlier this month. When Crimea began distancing itself from Kiev, it was Slutsky who was charged with helping to oversee the disputed referendum on independence.




Valentina Matviyenko, head of the Federation Council

Valentina Matviyenko is being sanctioned for her status as the head of the Federal Council. One of Putin's closest friends, Matviyenko is the highest-ranking female politician in Russia. The Moscow Times describes her as an "undemocratic leader" with an eccentric sense of personal style that described as a mix of "Soviet bombast and Las Vegas lacquer."

On Monday she characterized the Obama administration's imposition of sanctions on Russian officials as "political blackmail... the likes of which the world had not seen even during the Cold War."

In the photo above, Matviyenko arrives at the re-opening ceremony of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, on Oct. 28, 2011.




Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister

Dmitry Rogozin is being sanctioned for his status as the deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation. In this role, he oversees the country's defense industry. Last week, after a closed-door meeting with other defense industry leaders, Rogozin tweeted that Western economic sanctions would stimulate Russian industry while hurting foreign partners. "Hard to believe that in the conditions of a continuing economic recession Western politicians find some pleasure in hurting the businesses that use Russian markets as the only opportunity to maintain the production and to keep jobs," he said.

Here, Rogozin speaks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) on Dec. 23, 2011 at the Gorki residence outside Moscow, after being appointed deputy prime minister.




Yelena Mizulina, member of Duma

Described by the Associated Press as "Putin's morality crusader," Yelena Mizulina serves as a driving force behind anti-homosexuality laws in Russia -- including the 2013 measure banning "homosexual propaganda." She was a member of the state Duma from 1995 to 2003, and again since 2007. According to the White House, Mizulina landed on the sanctions list in connection with her role as a member of parliament, where she has tried to submit a bill that would allow Moscow to incorporate a secessionist region of another state. Shortly after the sanctions list was released, Mizulina told RT that she was puzzled by her inclusion saying, " I don't have any accounts or real estate abroad, nor do my family members live abroad...Why was particularly I included?"

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Sergey Aksyonov, head of Crimean quasi-government 

Sergey Aksyonov, the de facto leader of Crimea who's led the charge to secede from Ukraine, has ironically never lived in Russia. The 41-year-old was instead raised in Moldova, where his father was an officer in the Red Army and led a group that advocated for the rights of ethnic Russians. Following his father's lead, he was attending a Russian military academy in Crimea when the Soviet Union collapsed. Instead of the army, Aksyonov reportedly fell in as a mid-level commander in Crimea's flourishing criminal underworld, earning the nickname "Goblin" while helping to run a gang that worked extortion rackets, among other crimes. He later headed the marginal Russian Unity Party -- a largely powerless party with three seats in the regional legislature. He rocketed out of obscurity late last month when he assembled the "self-defense forces" that stormed the Crimean parliament and gave Russia the nominal reason for its invasion and occupation of the region. Putin soon recognized him as Crimea's legitimate leader. The former cigarette trader has now been sanctioned for "threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine's democratic institutions and processes." Aksyonov has picked his moment -- the question is whether he can hold onto it.

In the photo above Aksyonov attends for a swearing-in ceremony for Crimean self defense soldiers in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine, on March 8.




Vladimir Konstantinov, speaker of Crimea's parliament

Konstantinov appealed on Monday to members of Ukraine's military stationed in Crimea to join what he claimed were the region's new armed forces. Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Senchenko has claimed Konstantinov has long ties to Crimea's criminal elements, and he's been embroiled in business scandals through the real estate development firm he's affiliated, which reportedly holds more than $100 million in banks debts -- much of it to Russian banks. Like Aksyonov, he's being sanctioned for "threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, and for undermining Ukraine's democratic institutions and processes."

Above, Konstantinov attends a meeting at the Russian parliament in Moscow on March 7.




Viktor Yanukovych, former Ukrainian president

Yanukovych has been ousted from office twice: First, in 2004, as a result of the Orange Revolution, then again in February, when he fled Ukraine for Russia amidst massive protests and political tumult. Opponents accused Yanukovych of ordering shots fired on protestors and, soon after he fled, journalists descended upon his mansion in Kiev looking for evidence of corruption. He ended up in Russia, where he gave Russian-language press conferences asking Putin to deploy Russian troops into Ukraine.

In the photo above, Yanukovych addresses reporters after a signing ceremony in the Great Hall of the People on Sept. 2, 2010 in Beijing, China.

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