Russian Countersanctions

Following the imposition of new U.S. sanctions on Russia in April 2018, Russian lawmakers have introduced two draft bills proposing Russian countersanctions against ‘unfriendly’ states, as well as criminalizing compliance with foreign sanctions in Russia.

The Countermeasures Bill

The first measure, the Draft Bill No. 441399-7 On Measures (Countermeasures) in Response to Unfriendly Actions of the USA and (or) other Foreign States (the Countermeasures Bill) passed both chambers of the Federal Assembly, and was signed into law by President Putin and officially published on June 4, 2018. It is effective from that date.

The Countermeasures Bill was significantly watered down during its passage through the State Duma. Specifically, the Duma removed the specified categories of banned products and services that were proposed in the initial draft. The revised Countermeasures Bill as enacted includes the following six measures which may target the U.S., other ‘unamicable’ foreign states (the Relevant States), entities that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Relevant States, entities that are directly or indirectly owned by entities under the jurisdiction of the Relevant States (the Relevant Entities), officials and citizens of the Relevant States, if they are involved in ‘unamicable’ acts with respect to the Russian Federation:

  • Article 2(1): Termination or suspension of international cooperation between Russia and Russian legal entities and the Relevant States, including entities that are subject to the jurisdiction of the Relevant States, or the Relevant Entities, relating to sectors to be determined by a separate decision of the Russian President.
  • Article 2(2): Prohibition or restriction on the import of products and/or raw materials into Russia originating from the Relevant States or manufactured by the Relevant Entities. The list of products and/or raw materials shall be determined by the Russian Government. Significantly, such measures would not apply to (a) products which do not have substitutes manufactured in Russia, or (b) products imported for personal use.
  • Article 2(3): Prohibition or restriction on the export from the Russian Federation of products and/or raw materials by (a) citizens of the Relevant States and/or (b) the Relevant Entities. The list of products and/or raw materials will be determined by the Russian Government.
  • Article 2(4): Prohibition or restriction on access, directly or indirectly, to public procurement for providers of works/services that are Relevant Entities. The list of particular works/services prohibited from public procurement will be determined by the Russian Government.
  • Article 2(5): Prohibition or restriction on participation in privatization of state or municipal property for (a) citizens of the Relevant States and/or (b) the Relevant Entities. Prohibition or restriction for such persons from (a) providing works/services for the organization of sale of federal property in the name of the Russian Federation and/or (b) fulfilling functions as a seller of federal property.
  • Article 2(6): All other measures determined by a separate decision of the Russian President.

Such measures must be implemented by all federal and municipal bodies, as well as the citizens of the Russian Federation and entities under Russian jurisdiction (Article 1(4)).

The Criminalization Bill

On May 14, 2018, Russian lawmakers filed another draft bill in connection with the proposed countermeasures, this time proposing criminal liability for Russian citizens complying with non-Russian sanctions. The Draft Bill No. 464757-7 On Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (the Criminalization Bill) passed its first hearing stage with only minor changes. The second hearing for the Criminalization Bill was scheduled for May 17, 2018 but was postponed, pending further consultations with the Russian government and the business community. A new date for the hearing has not yet been set.

The draft bill introduces a new Article 2842 of the Russian Criminal Code, which creates the following two new types of criminal offenses and related liability:

  • Article 2842(1): Actions (or omission to act) aimed at compliance with a decision of a foreign state, union of foreign states or international organization to impose restrictive measures, if this action (omission to act) restricts or prohibits Russian citizens, legal entities incorporated in Russia, Russian Federation, subjects of the Russian Federation, municipal entities or entities controlled by any of the above (Russian private or public entities of entities controlled by them) to fulfil “ordinary economic operations or transactions”. Liability for such criminal offense ranges from (a) a fine of up to RUB 600,000 or four annual salaries or income, to (b) up to four years of imprisonment and also potentially a fine of up to RUB 200,000 or one annual salary or income.
  • Article 2842(2): Willful actions by Russian citizens that contribute to the imposition of restrictive measures by a foreign state, union of foreign states, international organization on Russian individuals, public and private entities (including their controlled entities). Such actions may involve recommendations and provision of information that led to the imposition of anti-Russian sanctions. Liability for such offense ranges from (a) a fine of up to RUB 500,000 or three annual salaries or income, to (b) up to three years of imprisonment and potentially a fine of up to RUB 200,000 or one annual salary or income.

An explanatory note to the new Article 2842 clarifies that “ordinary economic operations or transactions” means legal actions, aimed at performing contractual or other legal obligations, if such operation or transactions are carried on in the ordinary course of business, or other lawful activities, by individuals or entities (or foreign entities controlled by them) who are subject to restrictive measures (e.g., specially designated nationals or SDNs). Such transactions would include opening of bank accounts, making and accepting payments, trading securities, etc.

Based on the difference in terminology (insofar as the latter is limited to “actions by Russian citizens”), the proposed Article 2842(1) appears to apply both to Russian and to foreign citizens subject to Russian jurisdiction, in contrast to Article 2842(2), which appears to apply to Russian citizens only.

Russian business groups reportedly voiced opposition to the current draft of the Criminalization Bill. Russian President Putin has stated that the new law “should be balanced” and that it “must not do harm to our own economy and to those of our partners with good conscience do business in Russia.” We would therefore expect that the Criminalization Bill will be amended before being passed through its second hearing.

On May 23, 2018, the State Duma’s Law-making Committee held a meeting among policymakers and representatives of, among others, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Retail Companies Association, European Businesses Association, and Russian banks and retailers. The majority view on the business side appears to be that the appropriate liability for compliance with foreign sanctions (i.e. the new criminal offense under Article 2842(1)) would be administrative (e.g. a fine), not criminal. However, the proposed criminal offense of contributing to the imposition of foreign sanctions, etc. (i.e. under Article 2842(2)) is likely to remain in the Criminal Code. The Law-making Committee will now consult on the results of these discussions with the Russian government and the responsible ministries. The next step would be for the Committee to prepare a revised draft of the bill. It is expected that the second draft would be ready for another round of discussions between the Committee and the business community representatives a week after the consultations with the government, and will then be submitted for the second hearing at the Duma.

If the Criminalization Bill is enacted in the current version (which does not appear likely given President Putin’s comments), companies operating in Russia and, in particular Russian citizen managers of the operation of Russian subsidiaries of U.S. or non-Russian companies, would face a substantial risk arising from the potential conflict generated by U.S. obligations that can apply to even non-U.S. entities (e.g., “secondary” sanctions or the designation authority in Section 228 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and the provisions in the Criminalization Bill.