Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Moscow believes a hotly anticipated U.S. list of rich Russians seen as close to President Vladimir Putin is an attempt to meddle in the country’s March 18 2017 election.
Peskov made the remarks on Jan. 29, 2018, ahead of the expected release by the U.S. Treasury Department of what is known as the “Kremlin Report.”
“We really do believe that this is a direct and obvious attempt to time some steps to coincide with the election in order to exert influence on it,” Peskov told journalists.
The report was mandated by Congress in a law aimed to increase pressure on Russia after the U.S. intelligence community said that Putin ordered a concerted hacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed to influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
President Donald Trump, who called for warmer ties with Russia during the campaign, reluctantly signed the bill into law in August 2017.
It gave the Treasury Department, the State Department, and intelligence agencies 180 days to identify people by “their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”
Russian business leaders and others named on the list — part of which may be kept classified — will not immediately be hit with sanctions but could face them in the future.
The expected release of the report has caused concern in the Russian elite, according to U.S. officials and U.S. advisers to Russian business leaders.
Peskov shrugged it off, however, saying that “we are convinced that it will have no influence” on the Russian election.
With the Kremlin controlling the levers of political power nationwide after years of steps to suppress dissent and marginalize political opponents, the election is virtually certain to hand Putin a new six-year term.
Political commentators say Putin, 65, is eager for a high turnout to strengthen his mandate in what could be his last stint in the Kremlin, as he would be constitutionally barred from seeking a third straight term in 2024.
U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller and three congressional panels are separately investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
Trump denies there was any collusion, and Putin has denied that Russia interfered in the U.S. election process, despite what U.S. officials say is substantial evidence.