US blacklists Putin money-manager, luxury yacht brokerage for Russian elite
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and cellist Sergei Roldugin, whom the US has hit with sanctions, calling him the Russian leader's money-manager. (Ivan Sekretarev POOL/AFP)

The United States placed Russian President Vladimir Putin's money-manager and a Monaco company that provides luxury yachts to Moscow's elite on its sanctions blacklist Thursday, stepping up pressure over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Washington hit Sergei Roldugin, labelled "Putin's middle-man," Roldugin's opera singer wife Elena Mirtova, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova with sanctions, as well as several large yachts in which Putin allegedly has an interest, the Treasury said.

The sanctions also included several senior government officials and powerful businessmen, and aircraft and a luxury yacht tied to Andrei Kostin, the chief executive of VTB Bank, one of the country's largest.

And, in parallel, the US Commerce Department placed some 70 Russian companies on a list that blocks them from obtaining crucial US technologies and goods.

The sanctions are designed to "degrade the key networks used by Russia’s elites, including President Vladimir Putin, to attempt to hide and move money and anonymously make use of luxury assets around the globe," the Treasury said.

The White House said the action was meant to step up pressure on Moscow more than three months after it invaded Ukraine.

"The United States, alongside over 30 partners around the world, has imposed unprecedented sanctions and export controls to hold President Putin to account for his war against Ukraine, restrict Russia’s access to critical technology it needs to fund its war machine, and turn Russia into a global financial pariah," the White House said in a statement.

The Treasury said it declared four luxury yachts linked to Putin and on which he has taken numerous trips as "blocked property," meaning they can be seized.

In addition, it took aim at Imperial Yachts, based in Monaco and operating a Moscow office serving Russian tycoons, and its owner Evgeniy Kochman.

Imperial both leases yachts to the Russian elite and manages yachts owned by Russian oligarchs, the Treasury said.

The sanctions on Imperial include placing a block on its largest yacht, the three-year-old, 136-meter "Flying Fox," which was raided by authorities in the Dominican Republic on April 1 on a US request as part of an investigation on alleged money laundering and arms trafficking.

Roldugin and his wife were blacklisted by the US for the first time, after having been placed on European sanctions lists in February.

He is better known as a cellist and the artistic director of the St. Petersburg Music House, and has been a friend of Putin for more than four decades. Roldugin is godfather to one of the Russian president's daughters.

But the Treasury says he is a key figure in managing Putin's personal wealth offshore.

"Russia’s elites, up to and including President Putin, rely on complex support networks to hide, move, and maintain their wealth and luxury assets," said Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson.

"Today’s action demonstrates that Treasury can and will go after those responsible for shielding and maintaining these ill-gotten interests," Nelson said.