On March 7, 2022, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US Department of the Treasury published guidance (Guidance) for US financial institutions warning about: (1) efforts of foreign actors to evade expanding US economic sanctions and trade restrictions related to the Russian Federation and Belarus and (2) increased risk of malicious cyber-attacks and related ransomware campaigns, following the invasion of and continued military action in Ukraine.  The Guidance provides instructive red flags and related advice for all US financial institutions to evaluate, and provides information of particular relevance for Money Services Businesses (MSBs) and other FinCEN-regulated institutions undertaking transactions in what the agency calls “convertible virtual currency” (CVC).

Most notably, FinCEN strongly encourages US financial institutions that have information about CVC flows, including exchangers or administrators of CVC to: (1) be mindful of efforts to evade expanded US sanctions and export controls related to Russia and Belarus, summarized by Steptoe here; (2) submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as soon as possible regarding such conduct; (3) undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence of customers, and where required, enhanced due diligence; (4) voluntarily share information with other financial institutions consistent with Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act; and (5) consider using tools to identify assets that must be blocked or frozen under applicable sanctions.

Continue Reading What US Financial Institutions Need to Know about FinCEN’s Russian Sanctions Evasion and Ransomware Guidance

Since the adoption of the first sanctions package against Russia, the Council of the EU and the European Commission (“Commission”) have been working closely together to adopt increasingly severe sanctions to force President Putin back to the negotiating table in view of reaching a ceasefire. Coordination with allies has also been intense. Following our review of the first and second sanctions package, we analyze below the latest restrictive measures.

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.

Continue Reading Update: EU Adopts Additional Sanctions Against Russia and Belarus over the War in Ukraine

Since February 21, 2022, the United States has joined a coalition of countries imposing sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. New US sanctions and export controls are wide ranging and complex, significantly impacting trade and related financial transactions between the US and Russia, as well as Belarus.  They also affect transactions and exports from outside the United States in many areas of commerce. The following is a high-level overview of recent US legal developments as of March 8, 2022.

For more information on how these measures could impact your organization, contact a member of Steptoe’s Economic Sanctions and Export Controls teams.

Additional resources can be found on Steptoe’s “Sanctions against Russia: Implications for Business and International Trade” page.

Continue Reading A Summary of New Ukraine-related US Sanctions and Export Controls on Russia and Belarus

The United States government has continued to impose numerous economic sanctions and export controls measures following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  On February 24, 2022, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) significantly expanded export controls applicable to Russia.  On February 25, 2022, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added Russian President Vladimir Putin and others to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List.  It also imposed significant economic sanctions measures targeting Russia’s financial system — including by imposing sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institutions and limiting the ability of certain Russian state-owned and private entities to raise capital.  Together, OFAC’s actions, which were taken pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 14024 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are estimated to affect nearly 80 percent of all banking assets in Russia.

Finally, on February 26, 2022, the United States and European Union countries, together with the United Kingdom and Canada, announced an agreement to block certain Russian banks from access to SWIFT (with Japan also agreeing the following day), to impose sanctions on Russia’s Central Bank, and to limit the ability of certain Russian nationals connected to the Russian government to obtain citizenship in their countries. They further agreed to ensure effective transatlantic coordination in implementing sanctions, including by sanctioning additional Russian entities and persons, and by working together and with other governments around the world to identify and freeze sanctioned Russian assets.

Continue Reading Biden Administration Imposes Sweeping Financial Sanctions, Export Controls after Russian Invasion of Ukraine

On February 21, 2022, the White House issued a new Executive Order (EO) imposing comprehensive sanctions on the disputed Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia would recognize the independence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and place Russian military forces in those territories for purported peacekeeping operations.

The new EO prohibits:

  • new investment in the DNR or LNR by US persons, wherever located;
  • the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the DNR or LNR;
  • the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a US person, wherever located, of any goods, services, or technology to the DNR or the LNR; and
  • any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a US person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited if performed by a US person or within the United States.


Continue Reading White House Announces First Sanctions after Russia Enters Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Regions

On February 10, 2022, the UK government laid before parliament The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/123) (Amended Regulations).  The Amended Regulations, which came into force on the same day, expand the scope of the UK’s Russia sanctions regime by significantly broadening the range of individuals, businesses and other entities that the UK can sanction in the event of further Russian aggression against Ukraine.  The Amended Regulations include an innovative designation criterion designed to target individuals and entities of significance to the Kremlin.  Companies that are subject to UK sanctions jurisdiction and have exposure to Russia should familiarize themselves with the expanded scope of the UK’s Russia sanctions regime as part of their efforts to assess and mitigate the risks associated with possible sanctions against Russia.

For more information on potential Russia-related UK, EU, and US sanctions, see our earlier blog posts here and here. Visit this link to sign up to receive a recording of Steptoe’s recent webinar “Possible Sanctions Against Russia: What You Need to Know.”

Continue Reading New Regulations Expand UK’s Russia Sanctions Powers

HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) has published a revised version of its Monetary penalties for breaches of financial sanctions guidance (Guidance), which came into force on January 28, 2022.  The new Guidance will be used to assess any potential financial sanctions breaches of which OFSI becomes aware on or after that date.

Significant diplomatic capital has been invested by the EU, the United States, the UK and NATO in developing policies to deter Russia from invading Ukraine. Sanctions have been the main focus of discussion. EU Member States agreed in Council Conclusions that potential sanctions will include “a wide array of sectoral and individual restrictive measures that would be adopted in coordination with partners”, and UK Prime Minister Johnson stated before parliament that the UK and its allies are considering “imposing coordinated and severe sanctions, heavier than anything we have done before against Russia”.

However, what exactly such statements mean remains unclear. Furthermore, government officials have explicitly refused to give any information when asked about the details, and those who have given information did so under the condition of anonymity. To help companies plan ahead in light of such uncertainty and to help assess the risk of exposure to EU/UK sanctions, we outline below what EU/UK sanctions may be adopted, and key indicators that may influence both the severity and timing of such sanctions.

Continue Reading Assessing Potential EU and UK Sanctions Against Russia

Economic sanctions and export controls will form a core part of any multilateral response to an escalation of Russia’s military actions targeting Ukraine. While it is not possible to predict with certainty whether an escalation will occur or what form the responsive measures would take, this blog post outlines some of the current US sanctions proposals and authorizations to assist companies in taking preliminary steps to assess their potential exposure.

As of January 2022, none of the United States, the EU, or the UK have implemented any new, significant Russia-related sanctions or export control measures concerning Russia’s recent military buildup near the Russia-Ukraine border. Based on events in 2014 and the sanctions that ensued, companies could face rapid and potentially disruptive regulatory restrictions with wide-ranging impacts on a variety of industries. Some measures could be imposed within hours of a triggering event, or even prior to a specific triggering event. The US, EU, and UK are likely to coordinate a sanctions response to some extent, but some variations across different jurisdictions’ sanctions measures are also to be expected.  According to reports, policymakers have yet to agree on the triggers for new sanctions, and diplomatic efforts are ongoing.

Continue Reading Preparing for New Russia-Related Sanctions and Export Controls

On December 22, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued three general licenses (GLs) to authorize additional activities involving the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan that would otherwise be prohibited under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, 31 CFR part 594 (GTSR), the Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations, 31