On March 15, the Council of the EU proceeded to adopt the fourth package of sanctions against Russia over the continued military aggression of Ukraine. With these new sanctions, the EU seeks to address potential loopholes under the first three packages, such as by providing clarifications, to restrict certain derogations, and to expand the sanctions’ scope by targeting new sectors. In particular, the new sanctions target the energy sector, although significant carve-outs exist for coal, oil, and natural gas imports.
For more information on how these developments could impact your organization, contact a member of Steptoe’s Economic Sanctions team in Brussels.
For additional resources can be found on Steptoe’s “Sanctions against Russia: Implications for Business and International Trade” page.
Expanding sectoral sanctions against the Russian economy
Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/430 and Council Regulation (EU) 2022/428 amending Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 concerning restrictive measures in view of Russia’s actions destabilising the situation in Ukraine provide for the following sectoral sanctions.
Restrictions affecting the energy sector
Trade restrictions in the energy sector
The new rules clarify that no derogation may be granted from the trade prohibitions and the restrictions on certain related services with regard to dual-use items listed in Annex I to the Dual-Use Regulation as well as items listed in Annex VII to Regulation 833/2014 if they are intended for the energy sector, unless allowed under the exceptions explained hereafter.
Further, the sanctions provide for the prohibition to sell, supply, transfer or export, directly or indirectly, goods or technology listed in Annex II to Regulation 833/2014 to any natural or legal person, entity or body in Russia, whether or not such goods and technology originate in the EU. As under previous sanctions packages, related financing, financial and technical assistance as well as brokering services or other services are also prohibited. Previously, such trade and related services were already subject to authorization.
However, exemptions apply for 1) the transport of fossil fuels from or through Russia into the EU; or 2) the urgent prevention or mitigation of an event likely to have a serious and significant impact on human health and safety or the environment.
In addition, Member States’ competent authorities may grant a derogation when they deem it is necessary to ensure critical energy supply in the EU, or in the interest of the EU industry. There is also a wind-down period until 17 September 2022 for contracts concluded before 16 March 2022, or ancillary contracts necessary for the execution of such contracts. Lastly, an exemption is provided whereby the prohibitions do not apply to the provision of (re-)insurance to EU entities with regard to their activities outside the energy sector in Russia.
We note that the transactions that are now prohibited under these latest sanctions were – previously – subject to authorization and only prohibited if they were intended for certain specific uses.
Financial restrictions in the energy sector
The new rules also provide for far-reaching prohibitions to invest in the energy sector in Russia. Specifically, it is prohibited to:
- acquire any new or extend any existing participation in any person or entity incorporated or constituted under the law of Russia or any other third country and operating in the energy sector in Russia;
- grant or be part of any arrangement to grant any new loan or credit or otherwise provide financing, including equity capital, to any entity incorporated or constituted under the law of Russia or any other third country and operating in the energy sector in Russia, or for the documented purpose of financing such an entity;
- create any new joint venture with any entity or body incorporated or constituted under the law of Russia or any other third country and operating in the energy sector in Russia;
- provide investment services directly related to the above-mentioned activities.
Similarly to the trade restrictions, Member States’ competent authorities may grant a derogation if it 1) is necessary for ensuring critical energy supply within the EU, as well as for the transport of fossil fuels from or through Russia into the EU; or 2) it exclusively concerns a person or entity operating in the energy sector in Russia owned by an EU person or entity.
Trade prohibitions with regard to iron and steel products and luxury goods
Under these set of restrictions, the measures prohibit most trade as well as specific related services in connection with iron and steel products as listed in Annex XVII in connection with Russia. However, these prohibitions do not apply to the execution until 17 June 2022 of contracts concluded before 16 March 2022, or ancillary contracts necessary for the execution of such contracts.
Further, it is prohibited to sell, supply, transfer or export specific luxury goods to persons or entities in Russia or for use in Russia if their value exceeds 300 euros per item. However, this prohibition does not apply to goods which are necessary for official diplomatic purposes.
Prohibitions on transactions with specific publicly owned or controlled entities
The measures prohibit to directly or indirectly engage in any transaction with:
- persons or entities as listed in Annex XIX (including Rosneft, Transneft, Gazprom Neft and Sovcomflot);
- persons or entities established outside the EU that are owned for more than 50 % by an entity listed in Annex XIX; or
- persons or entities acting on behalf or at the direction of an entity as referred above.
The prohibition does not apply to the execution until 15 May 2022 of contracts concluded before 16 March 2022 or ancillary contracts necessary for the execution of such contracts. Furthermore, the following significant exemptions are provided for:
- transactions which are strictly necessary for the purchase, import or transport of fossil fuels as well as titanium, aluminum, copper, nickel, palladium and iron ore from or through Russia into the EU;
- transactions related to energy projects outside Russia in which a person or entity listed in Annex XIX is a minority shareholder.
Prohibitions in connection with credit rating services
As of April 15, 2022, it will be prohibited to provide credit rating services and subscription services in relation to credit rating activities to Russian nationals and residents as well as persons or entities established in Russia. These prohibitions will not apply to EU nationals or natural persons having a temporary or permanent residence permit in a Member State.
Designation of additional high-profile individuals and entities connected to the Kremlin
The Council of the EU designated an additional 15 individuals and 9 entities to the list of persons and entities subject to restrictive measures as set out in Annex I to Regulation (EU) No 269/2014, under Council Decision (CFSP) 2022/429 and Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2022/427 concerning restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.
Those newly listed are influential oligarchs and propagandists involved in the Kremlin’s disinformation strategies over the war in Ukraine, as well as key companies in the aviation, military and dual use, shipbuilding and machine building sectors. Some of the most high-profile individuals listed over their “well established ties” to the Russian President include Roman Abramovich, German Khan, Viktor Rashnikov (Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works (MMK)), Alexey Viktorovich (Alfa Group), Suleyman Kerimov (Nafta Moscow) and Tigran Khudaverdyan (Yandex).
As usual under EU sanctions, such listings involve an asset freeze and a prohibition to make any funds or economic resources available, directly or indirectly, to or for the benefit of the listed individuals and entities. That prohibition is very broad and essentially precludes virtually any business with listed individuals or entities. The listings also result in an EU travel ban for the designated individuals.
However, as the number of business-prominent individuals designated increases, we would warn about the risk of entities, while not being explicitly designated, nevertheless falling under the scope of the prohibitions due to the ownership or control of the listed individual’s in connection to an entity. The stated reasons for the individuals’ designation provide an indication as to the non-listed entities which may in certain instances be targeted. As a result, EU entities would be prohibited from providing them economic resources.
With these latest restrictive measures, the EU has sought to maximize the impact of the sanctions by expanding their reach and by limiting the application of certain derogations. However, Member States may seem to have gone as far as they could with such degree of unity. As an EU diplomat said “They [the faultlines] have been present from the beginning, but are starting to show more now that the sanctions are going further and further.” While listing additional individuals, entities and Russian banks to limit their access to SWIFT – to the exception of Sberbank and Gazprombank – are areas where additional sanctions are fairly achievable, the most impactful, but yet controversial, sanction would be to ban Russian gas and oil imports.
Lastly, we note that to support exporters and national competent authorities, to implement the expanding export restrictions pursuant to the consecutive sanction packages against Russia and Belarus, the Commission published various sets of Frequently Asked Questions on export-related restrictions concerning dual-use goods and advance technology items.