Happy new year everyone. The government is shut down, but there has already been a flurry of activity in 2019 on the economic sanctions and embargoes front. Here is a summary of where we stand on various sanctions regimes.

Russia. On January 10, 2019, the Trump administration defended its decision to ease U.S. sanctions against companies connected to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. In 2017, the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) passed Congress overwhelmingly and was signed into law by President Trump. As we blogged here and here, CAATSA codified strict Russia sanctions. It also allows Congress to block any termination of sanctions by the Executive. In December 2018, the Treasury department announced that it would lift sanctions on three of Deripaska’s companies: EN+ group, Rusal, and JSC EuroSibEnergo. Though Deripaska would continue to be subject to sanctions personally, Secretary Mnuchin reportedly told members of Congress in a briefing that the three companies had committed to “significantly diminish Deripaska’s ownership and sever his control.” Many lawmakers left the briefing unimpressed, and expressed concern that lifting sanctions would result in a tremendous financial benefit to Deripaska, whose designation by Treasury for sanctions last year reads like a mafia indictment. For now, it is unlikely that Congress is united enough to use its CAATSA powers to maintain the sanctions in the face of the Administration’s decision to lift them. But it is clear that Congressional Democrats intend to exercise their oversight powers when it comes to sanctions (or lack thereof) against Russia.
Continue Reading New Year Sanctions Roundup: Where Do We Stand?

A double agent. Nerve gas. Violations of international law. The recently imposed sanctions on Russia have all the makings of a James Bond movie but, unfortunately, those sanctions may cause some less-than-entertaining headaches for your business.

Why These Sanctions

On August 8, the U.S. State Department notified Congress it would impose new sanctions on Russia based on the U.S. Government’s determination that the Russian Government has used chemical and biological weapons in violation of international law. That determination was made under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (“CBW”) after the Russian government’s use of the “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen (and double agent to Russia and the UK) Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal.
Continue Reading The Latest U.S. Sanctions on Russia

Since the U.S. Government determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 election[1], movement around Russia sanctions policy has been vigorous, if not unidirectional. In 2016, the United States implemented twice sanctions against Russia: In September, dozens of individuals and entities were sanctioned with regards to Russian operations in Crimea. In December, President Obama expelled 35 Russian intelligence agents from the U.S. and imposed sanctions on two major intelligence services, as a response to those interferences from Russia. In 2017, concerned that the new Administration might roll back certain sanctions on Russia, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, codifying and adding to sanctions on Russia already in place (which we reported on here).

In January, we anticipated two more moves mandated under CAATSA: 1) the publication of a List of Senior Political Figures and Oligarchs in the Russian Federation and 2) sanctions against entities and individuals that had conducted significant transactions with the defense and intelligence sectors in Russia. It appears that one was a feint and the other, a flop.
Continue Reading Lurches, Leaps, Feints, and Flops: Movements Without Motion in Russian Sanctions Policy

Russian President Vladmir Putin has directed his government to develop a state-backed cryptocurrency, according to a Financial Times report published on January 2nd. A Putin advisor says that the “Crypto-rouble” could be used to “settle accounts with our counterparties all over the world with no regard for sanctions.” He added that Russia’s cryptocurrency would be “the same rouble, but its circulation would be restricted in a certain way.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. Broadly, establishing a cryptocurrency that the Kremlin can track defeats two of the main purposes of cryptocurrency: to provide anonymity and to remove government central banks from transactions.
Continue Reading Could the Crypto-Rouble Spell Crypto-Trouble for Sanctions?

Remember how we talked about bipartisan legislation introduced in March 2017 (which seems like a million years ago) to investigate the Russian media outlet RT for spreading propaganda without registering as a foreign agent? Since then, you might have seen (including in our blog, here) the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) starting to rise from obscurity.
Continue Reading FARA and the First Amendment: How will the United States Calibrate its Response to Foreign Propaganda?

On July 27, 2017, the U.S. Congress sent to President Trump’s desk a bill that imposes new financial sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. It appears nearly certain that the president will sign that bill, now called the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA). Edit: President Trump signed the bill on August 2, 2017.
Continue Reading In the Chaos of (Trade) War, Where Does Your Company Find Peace?

On January 10, 2017, Senate Republicans and Democrats introduced bi-partisan legislation called the “Countering Russian Hostilities Act of 2017,” which would impose broad sanctions on Russia. The Act would codify the sanctions President Obama imposed in response to the Russian cyberattack on the United States to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election and the Ukraine-related sanctions President Obama issued in 2014. Importantly, the legislation introduces beefed up economic sanctions against Russia’s energy and financial sectors.
Continue Reading The Future of Russia Sanctions: The Awkward Edition

In late May, The Russian Federation issued its first sovereign bond since the Ukraine crisis in 2014. The sole organizer of the bond is VTB Capital, an arm of VTB Bank, Russia’s second largest financial institution. Both VTB Capital and VTB Bank are subject to sectoral sanctions.

According to published reports, the 10-year bond is being offered at yields of 4.65-4.9 percent. Russia’s goal was to raise $3 billion to help with its budget deficit caused by weak oil prices. Reportedly, the bond generated $7 billion of demand, though the Russian finance ministry announced only $1.75 billion in sales. Foreign investors constituted more than 70% of the bond purchasers. According to media reports, large global banks declined to participate, partly due to sanctions compliance risks. But as we will see, the compliance risks aren’t very clear. We will examine the exact risks and evaluate the question of why banks might be over-complying.


Continue Reading Buying Russian Bonds: Risky Business or Safe Bet?

On July 16, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed new sanctions against Russia, which target the country’s financial, energy and defense sectors.  In a parallel action, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added 11 parties to its Entity List based on their role in the destabilization of eastern Ukraine and the ongoing occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol.
Continue Reading CLIENT ALERT: United States Imposes New Sanctions and Export Restrictions Against Russian Banks, Companies, and Individuals