OFAC recently announced the designation of Russian bank Tempbank and one of its Russian officials, Mikhail Gagloev, to its Specially Designated Nationals List “for providing material support and services to the Government of Syria.”  According to OFAC, Tempbank “arranged to deliver millions of dollars in cash” to a Russian airport for pickup by “cash couriers” for the Central Bank of Syria and Gagloev “personally travelled to Damascus to make deals with the Syrian regime on behalf of Tempbank.”  Six senior officials of the Syrian government and two Syrian companies were also designated for apparently unrelated reasons.

Not surprisingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry responded that Russia believes the designations of Tempbank and Gagloev are “absolutely unacceptable” and “would like to remind the U.S. side yet again that the language of sanctions is useless and counterproductive.”  To the Russian government, the basis for which a Russian individual or entity is designated as a U.S. sanctions target is, of course, irrelevant.  Russia can, moreover, understandably disregard the reason behind OFAC’s designations because the resulting sanctions against the identified Russians are effectively the same.

In light of the designations of Tempbank and Gagloev, it is reasonable to suspect that OFAC may start designating more Russians to the SDN List for reasons unrelated to Ukraine to augment the U.S. sanctions target range.  Indeed, it is peculiar that no one had been designated to the SDN List under sanctions against Syria for almost a year until this latest development.

Perhaps, OFAC is changing course from designating Russians to the SDN List for shaky reasons like being part of Putin’s “Inner Circle,” as was the justification given for targeting the likes of Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg.  Targeting someone for sanctions just because he is a Putin crony may be enough under IEEPA’s broad authorization to the President, but doing so has not been met with the same enthusiasm by others, namely the EU.  The EU has, for sure, its own reasons not to tread into designating Russian businesses and businessmen with substantial ties and influence on European markets.  However, the result, which we recently pointed out, is that U.S., EU and even Canadian sanctions relating to Russia are becoming quite the confusing patchwork to follow.