Polis issues state-level economic sanctions against Russian government, businesses

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Gov. Jared Polis makes a short visit during a rally for Ukraine on the Colorado Capitol steps. Feb. 24, 2022.

Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which provides retirement benefits to more than 600,000 state employees, said Friday that it has identified $8 million in investments affected by Colorado’s new sanctions against the Russian government.

The list of companies includes Russian banks, utilities and oil and gas producers. 

“PERA will comply with applicable divestment orders,” the association said in a statement. “As of February 24, PERA has $8 million invested in Sberbank, OGK-2, Gazprom, Mosenergo, and Rosneft Oil.”

Gov. Jared Polis announced the state-level sanctions on Thursday, aiming to sever Colorado’s economic and diplomatic ties with the country in response to its invasion of Ukraine this week. 

“We are looking across the state government and doing everything we can to show we do not support the Russian government,” Polis said in a wide-ranging video address posted on Facebook Thursday. 

Colorado’s sanctions include the following moves, in addition to the PERA directive: 

  • Pulling Colorado from coverage by the Russian consular office in Houston, Texas, which works to build diplomatic ties between the country and individual states. Colorado officials have now asked the Department of State to officially remove it from those efforts.
  • Ordering public higher education institutions to review and cancel research projects or grants with financial ties to Russia and to divest endowments from any Russia-owned assets.
  • Review contractors and sub-contractors in multiple state departments and cancel any business ties to Russia.

The actions echo President Joe Biden and U.S. allies’ harsh economic sanctions on Russian banks, which have done little to stem the invasion. Hundreds of Ukrainians have reportedly been killed in the assault so far, and many are evacuating the country as demonstrations break out around the world.

PERA said its plans to divest from Russia-owned assets likely wouldn’t impact member benefits. The association’s total portfolio is valued at roughly $61 billion, according to a spokesman.

The state treasurer’s office says it has reviewed its investment portfolio and confirmed that the department would not need to take action, said Dave Young, the state’s treasurer. 

“I support Governor Polis’s plan to take steps in order to prevent severe economic fallout here in Colorado and the United States,” Young said in a statement. “I can confirm that the Colorado Treasury Department does not hold Russian-owned assets.”

In his video, Polis said the state actions were not meant to harm Russian citizens. He said Colorado hopes to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin while protecting residents from economic turmoil in the wake of the invasion.

“Colorado simply will not stand for this attack on freedom and democracy,” Polis said.

The executive order carrying out most of the sanctions also includes the following measures:

  • Directing the Office of Information Technology to “focus resources” on protecting the state’s critical infrastructure from Russian cyberattacks or misinformation.
  • Directing the Office of New Americans to welcome Ukrainian refugees, “including but not limited to exploring all options for housing, opportunities for future State employment, and access to resources.”

Polis said he plans to write a letter to the U.S. State Department and the Ukrainian ambassadors stating that the state’s resettlement program is prepared to accommodate the need. Colorado has around 11,000 Ukrainian-Americans who have resettled in the state to date, he added.

“The fabric of our state has only been strengthened by the immigrants who make their home here,” Polis said. 

In his video address, Polis urged Coloradans to support non-profit organizations providing humanitarian aid on the ground in Ukraine. 

He also urged Congress and President Biden to suspend the federal gas tax and “double down” on a clean energy transition to help mitigate price hikes closer to home amid global fuel supply disruptions in the invasion’s aftermath.

“Our future cannot be tied to geopolitical conflicts and global commodity prices,” Polis said. 

CPR News has reached out to several state lawmakers about what roles they expect to play in the state’s divestment efforts.

This is a developing story and will be updated.