EU foreign ministers have reaffirmed their commitment to continuing sanctions against Russia until it complies with its obligations under the Minsk peace agreements. The G7 nations also took this position when they met in May last year (see previous blog).
Speaking today, the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini said that although she “cannot say where the US administration stands on this…I can say where the Europeans stand on this”. Setting out the UK’s position, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated that “The UK will be insisting that there is no case for the relaxation of the sanctions, every case for keeping up the pressure on Russia”.
In October 2016, UK bank NatWest informed state-owned Russian news channel RT (formerly Russia Today) that it would no longer be providing it with banking services in the UK. NatWest is now reported to have changed its position, following discussions with RT.
President Trump is due to speak to President Putin today, in their first call since Trump took office. It is being reported that lifting US sanctions may be on the agenda. When asked whether the leaders would discuss lifting US sanctions on Russia, senior aide to Trump Kellyanne Conway said that “All of this is under consideration”. There have also been reports that a member of Mr Trump’s team has drafted an executive order to lift sanctions on Russia.
The General Court of the EU has dismissed the annulment application brought by Almaz-Antey, a Russian defence firm, which challenged its listing on the EU’s sanctions that target people and entities responsible for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Case T-255/15 Joint-Stock Company ‘Almaz-Antey’ Air and Space Defence Corp v Council . This is the 2nd judgment interpreting the EU’s targeted Russia sanctions (the 1st being Rotenberg – see previous blog).
The EU’s reasons given for including Almaz-Antey in July 2014 are that it is a state owned company that manufactures weapons for the Russian army, an army which provides heavy weaponry to Ukrainian separatists used for shooting down aircraft. The Court rejected the applicant’s challenge to the proportionality of the listing criterion, finding that the EU had legitimately amended the criteria to include people / entities “materially or financially supporting actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine”. And the Court held that it was legitimate to include the applicant on the basis of that criterion even though the evidence showed that it had not supplied weapons to Ukraine or for use there; it was enough that it was a state-owned company suppying weapons to the Russian army which itself supplies weapons to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
As is often the case, the Court rejected the applicant’s other arguments based on vague reasons, rights of defence and prorportionality, and ordered the applicant to pay the EU Council’s costs. There are interesting comments at paras 147-8 of the judgment about the Council’s use of press articles as evidence.
The EU has published a notice addressed to 50 people and 7 entities listed on its targeted Russia sanctions, saying that it intends to maintain their sanctions listings with new statements of reasons. The sanctions target people and entities said to be responsible for undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The notice is here. The people affected may submit a request to the Council to obtain the intended statements of reasons for their designation before 23 January 2017, and at any time a request to the Council that the decision to include and maintain them on the list should be reconsidered. The next review is 7 February 2017.
President Obama has extended all US sanctions on Russia that were imposed in response to the Ukraine crisis by 1 year, until March 2018 (see notice here). The sanctions were due to expire had the President not renewed the national emergency first declared in respect of Russia’s actions in Ukraine in March 2014.
The leaders of the G7 countries have consistently stated that sanctions on Russia should continue until Russia complies with its obligations under the Minsk peace agreement (see previous blog). However, over the weekend President Elect Donald Trump raised the prospect of lifting sanctions against Russia sooner, saying that while he would keep sanctions against Russia in place “at least for a period of time…if you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”. In particular, he appeared to tie lifting sanctions to an agreement from Russia to reduce its stockpile of nuclear arms. In November last year, Russia suspended nuclear cooperation between Russia and the US in response to the sanctions (see previous blog).
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has indicated that it may ban far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from travelling to Ukraine. It said Le Pen had showed “disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” by endorsing the referendum held by Russia in Crimea in 2014 on whether Crimea should rejoin Russia. The EU and USA have described the referendum as “farcical” and, along with the G7 countries, continue to call for Russia to return Crimea to Ukrainian control before Russian sanctions are lifted (see previous blog).
On 29 December 2016 the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine imposed additional sanctions on Russia (the “aggressor-state”) and extending existing measures for a year, sanctioning (see press release):
- People “illegally elected to the State Duma after the so-called ‘elections’, held by the occupation authorities in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol.
- Members of the “so-called ‘election commissions’ in Crimea”.
- Ukrainian companies that were “illegally re-registered according to the Russian legislation”.
- Russian officials in law enforcement agencies and courts involved in the “illegal detention of Ukrainian citizens in Russia”.
- The former leaders of Ukraine, who were “put on the international wanted lists and who are hiding abroad and still has been involved in the financing of terrorist activities and hybrid aggression of Russia against Ukraine”.
- Legal entities controlled by Russia, “involved in the hybrid war against Ukraine in the sphere of information and cyberspace… Cyber-attacks against information systems of government agencies and critical infrastructure of Ukraine, coordinated by RF, conditioned the need of urgent measures taking to strengthen the quality of cyber-defend and cyber-security systems. In particular, it is all about the improvement of legislation, standardization ensuring, the unification of software and hardware solutions for the needs of the state, the development of defended National telecommunications network, the protection of state information resources and strengthen the security and defense authorities capacities in cyberspace.”
The Council also (a) commissioned the Cabinet of Ministers and Security Service to take urgent measures to improve its cyber security systems; (b) approved the draft of “Doctrine of information security of Ukraine” on freedom of speech and information policy to provide “effective measures implementation to counter Russian propaganda and bases on strict observance of values of free speech, journalists’ rights and Ukrainian media development”; and (c) supported the developed by Defense Ministry of Ukraine programme of Armed Forces development.