RUSSIA’S elite had been on edge for months. A new American law on sanctions, passed last summer, required the administration to draw up lists of senior officials and “oligarchs” close to Vladimir Putin’s regime. Though inclusion on the list would not automatically lead to sanctions, many feared that it would be tantamount to a scarlet letter. Businessmen hired lawyers and lobbyists to press their case in Washington. Some considered bringing capital back to Russia, fearing asset freezes and seizures.

Then early this week the list came out, and sniggering ensued—on both sides of the Atlantic. Just over 100 senior government officials were named. Keen commentators noted that the selection closely matched publicly available lists on the English-language version of the Kremlin website. Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign-affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, said that the administration appeared to have “copied the Kremlin’s phone book”. Another 96 big businessmen were singled out; the entirety, in fact, of the billionaires list from the Russian edition of Forbes. “My research assistant could have done it in an hour—maybe less,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia.

The copy-paste approach produced an eclectic and illogical list. Alongside well-known cronies and old friends of Mr Putin are fairly neutral executives, Russian citizens who operate mostly abroad and magnates who have clashed with the Kremlin. As a result, the report is “so broad, so inclusive and so non-discriminatory” that it undercuts the purpose of the bill, argues Daniel Fried, the State Department’s former co-ordinator for sanctions.

For Donald Trump’s administration, that may have been the point. Mr Trump reluctantly signed the bill, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), after it sailed through Congress last year. “There’s a huge philosophical gap between where the president and the bureaucracy stand on sanctions and Russia policy writ large,” says Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The so-called Kremlin report followed an earlier announcement that the government would not yet impose sanctions on countries or companies doing business with Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors, another step mandated by CAATSA. The Kremlin brushed off the report’s potential impact. The rouble rallied slightly and Russian borrowing costs dipped when it was published, suggesting the markets saw little to worry about.

Nonetheless, the report may yet bite. More detailed and damning information may be included in a classified section. Steve Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, said further sanctions would follow from the published list. Western businesses and banks may be more reluctant to deal with the Russians named. The Association of European Businesses, a lobbying group in Moscow, warned that the report “increases the uncertainty in the Russian business environment” and could affect the interests of European investors and firms operating in Russia. RBC, a Russian business-news agency, reckons that the 96 businessmen on the list collectively lost $1.1bn because of share-price movements on the day after its release. Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader who campaigns on an anti-corruption message and days earlier had led nationwide protests, cheered the report, saying: “We’re glad that they’ve been labelled crooks and thieves at the international level.”