New US Russia designations

The USA has added 38 people and entities to its sanctions on Russia linked to Russia’s activities in Ukraine, and identified 20 subsidiaries that are owned 50% or more by desiganated AK Transneft OAO.  Among the new designations are several officials of the “Republic of Crimea” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”, entities said to have been operating in Crimea, and a number of businesses owned or controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who has been linked to Russian mercenaries fighting in Syria and Russian “troll factories”.

In the US Treasury press release, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the sanctions are designed to “maintain pressure on Russia to work towards a diplomatic solution” for the Ukraine crisis, and said that “there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements”. The new listings are here.

EU renews Crimea & Sevastopol sanctions

The EU has renewed its territorial sanctions on Crimea and Sevastopol for another year, until 23 June 2018.  The sanctions include prohibitions on the import of products originating in, export of certain goods and technologies to, investment in, and tourism in Crimea and Sevastopol. The sanctions are a response to what the EU says is “the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation”. On renewing the sanctions (statement here), the EU Council reiterated that the EU “remains fully committed to fully implement its non-recognition policy” of any competing claim to Ukraine’s sovereignty over the regions.

See Council Decision (CFSP) 2017/1087 amending Council Decision 2014/386/CFSP.

EU court rejects free speech challenge by Kiselev to Russia designation

The General Court of the EU has rejected an application to annul the inclusion of Dmitrii Kiselev on the EU’s restrictive measures. Judgment here; Case T-262/15 Kiselev v Council.  Mr Kiselev was included in March 2014 on the EU’s asset freezing & travel ban measures for being a State-appointed propagandist supporting the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine. The Court has held (in summary) that:

  1. The EU’s Russia sanctions do not breach the EU / Russia Partnership Agreement because Russia’s actions in Ukraine fall within the exceptions for “war or serious international tension constituting threat of war”.
  2. The phrase “active support” for the Russian Government’s actions in Ukraine should be interpreted as referring to “persons who – without being themselves responsible for the actions and policies of the Russian Government destabilising Ukraine and without themselves implementing those actions or policies – provide support for those policies or actions” and covers only forms of support which are significant enough to “contribute to the continuance of” Russia’s “actions and policies destabilising Ukraine”.
  3. Including Mr Kiselev was a justified and proportionate restriction on his freedom of expression. He had given active support by portraying events in Ukraine in a light favourable to the Russian Government. Less restrictive measures such as a system of prior authorisation would not  have been as effective in pursuing the aim of “bringing pressure to bear on Russia’s decision-makers responsible for the situation in Ukraine”.

Russia’s Supreme Court says sanctions not grounds for rescinding lease

We previously reported that Russia’s Supreme Court was to give judgment on an appeal (VTB v Luisa Bikmaeva) brought by the proprietor of office premises in Russia leased to VTB Bank before VTB was subject to US, Canadian, and EU sectoral sanctions. VTB brought the claim for a declaration that it had validly rescinded this lease when sanctions were imposed. The first instance court held that the lease had been validly rescinded because the imposition of sanctions on VTB constituted “an exceptional and unforeseen circumstance…which the parties did not expect while entering into the contract”, and its findings were upheld on appeal to the Court of Cassation.

The Supreme Court has now overturned the findings of Russia’s lower courts, holding that VTB should have anticipated a possible change in circumstances when entering into the contract, and that the imposition of sanctions did not meet the test for a vital chance in circumstances and was not included in the terms of the contract as a factor which would allow a party to rescind it. The judgment (in Russian) is here.

US Senate votes in favour of new Russia sanctions

The US Senate has passed an amendment to an Iran sanctions bill that would, if approved by the House and signed by President Trump, introduce a range of new sanctions on Russia and restrict the US President’s ability to ease sanctions on Russia without Congressional approval.

The amendment, which enjoys bipartisan support, would expand existing sanctions on Russian people involved in human rights abuses, impose new sanctions on people conducting cyberattacks on behalf of the Russian government, supplying weapons to Syria’s government or deemed to have interfered in the 2016 US elections, and consolidate sanctions on Russia’s energy and financial sectors currently imposed by executive order.  The amendment would also allow for new sanctions on certain areas of Russia’s commodities and transport sectors and includes new measures targeting Russian and overseas entities supporting Russian “gas export pipelines” including the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to the EU.

EU to amend reasons for some Russia sanctions targets

The EU has published a notice for the attention of several people and entities listed on its sanctions targeted at (inter alia) people said to be undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine, informing them that it is considering maintaining their listings with new statements of reasons.  The people concerned (named on the notice) may request a copy of the new reasons from the EU Council before 16 June 2017.

Russia agrees to lift most of its sanctions on Turkey

Russia has agreed to lift most of the sanctions it imposed on Turkey after the latter shot down a Russian plane near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015 (details not yet released).  Several restrictions on tourism to Turkey have already been lifted, and the Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that “remaining sanctions in sectors like construction, consultancy, tourism, and wood would be lifted this month”.  A ban on Turkish tomatoes, one of Turkey’s key agricultural exports, will remain in place, and the visa ban on Turkish nationals.

Ukraine blocks access to Russian social networks & TV stations

Ukraine has blocked access to several Russian websites and imposed asset freezes and broadcasting bans on a number of Russian television channels.  The blocked websites include Russian search engine Yandex, social-networking sites Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte, and the websites of Russian cybersecurity firms Kaspersky Lab and DrWeb.

The Ukrainian government’s Security and Defence Council said that the ban was imposed in part to protect against entities “whose activities threaten the information and cyber security of Ukraine”.  Over 400 Russian entities have been sanctioned by Ukraine since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.