Russia/Ukraine Sanctions

On April 15, 2021, the White House and the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a package of economic sanctions targeting Russia, including expansive new legal authorities that would allow for the imposition of additional future sanctions on Russia in the technology sector and on Russian government bodies.  OFAC has also issued expanded restrictions on participation in the primary market for Russian sovereign debt, and lending to the Russian government, by US financial institutions.  In addition, OFAC blocked nearly 40 additional individuals and entities for “attempt[ing] to influence the 2020 [US] presidential election” and engaging in certain activities in Crimea.  At the same time, the US Department of State announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats.

The centerpiece of the package is Executive Order (“E.O.”) 14024, which, according to an OFAC press release, “elevates the [US] government’s capacity to deploy strategic and economically impactful sanctions to deter and respond to Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”  As the first significant Russia sanctions action by the Biden Administration, E.O. 14024 appears to have been intended to send a strong signal to Russia, but without taking action at this stage that would be highly or disproportionately economically damaging.  In taking this approach, it appears that the Administration has left open the possibility of an improvement in relations with Russia.  Indeed, these sanctions were preceded by President Biden’s April 13th proposal of a possible summit with President Putin to “discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia.”


Continue Reading New Russia Sanctions Focused on the Technology Sector and Sovereign Debt Markets

On March 2, 2021, the US Departments of Treasury, State, and Commerce announced the coordinated imposition of sanctions and other restrictive measures on Russia and Russian officials and entities for the “poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny.” The Department of the Treasury added seven Russian officials and entities to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (the SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13661 and EO 13382, thereby blocking their property or interests in property that come within the possession of US persons or the jurisdiction of the United States. US persons are now prohibited from engaging in transactions with these SDNs. The State Department designated seven entities under its own authority, including four that were already on the SDN List. Treasury further expanded the sanctions applied to Russia in 2018 after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK, and named six entities as operating for the Russian defense sector, triggering sanctions. The Commerce Department announced the addition of fourteen entities to the Entity List, which triggers a licensing requirement for exports, re-exports, and in-country transfers to those entities of all items subject to the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Continue Reading US Applies Wide Range of Sanctions to Russian Officials and Entities

On January 19, 2021, the US State Department announced the imposition of sanctions on Russia-based entity KVT-RUS and Russian-flagged vessel FORTUNA pursuant to Section 232 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), for “knowingly selling, leasing, or providing to the Russian Federation goods, services, technology, information, or support for the construction of Russian

On July 16, 2020, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued two new Ukraine-/Russia-related general licenses:  General License 15I, Authorizing Certain Activities Involving GAZ Group, which replaces General License 15H; and General License 13O, Authorizing Certain Transactions Necessary to Divest or Transfer Debt, Equity, or Other Holdings in GAZ Group, which replaces General License 13N.  OFAC also updated nine related FAQs – 570, 571, 586, 588, 589, 590, 591, 592, and 625 – on July 22.

Most notably, General License 15I expands the scope of the pre-existing authorization (covering only maintenance, wind-down and a very limited set of additional activities involving GAZ Group) to include new activities relating to the manufacture and sale of vehicles and related products.  Although many activities were able to continue under the prior GAZ Group general licenses (due to the expansive definition of “maintenance” in FAQ 625), this appears to be an important development for GAZ Group and for prospective or new business partners of GAZ Group.  OFAC has not disclosed any specific developments triggering this change, such as with respect to the ownership or control of Oleg Deripaska in GAZ Group, although the new license does provide for new reporting obligations related to ownership and control of GAZ Group.

General License 15I authorizes certain activities, subject to numerous limitations stated therein, for 190 days – from July 16, 2020 through 12:01 a.m. eastern standard time, January 22, 2021 – which is over a month longer than any of its predecessors.


Continue Reading OFAC Authorizes Additional Activities Involving GAZ Group

On July 15, 2020, the U.S. Department of State updated its public guidance on Section 232 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”), which authorizes (but does not require) the president to impose sanctions on “a person” that “knowingly” invests in Russian energy export pipelines, or that sells Russia goods, technology or services for such pipelines where certain monetary thresholds are met.

The Department of State announced that the purpose of the updated guidance is “to expand the focus of implementation of Section 232 to address certain growing threats to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests related to Russian energy export pipelines, particularly with respect to Nord Stream 2 and the second line of TurkStream.” This is a significant change, as the prior public guidance stated “The focus of implementation of Section 232 sanctions would be on . . . [Russian] energy export pipeline projects initiated on or after August 2, 2017 . . . For the purposes of Section 232, a project is considered to have been initiated when a contract for the project is signed. Investments and loan agreements made prior to August 2, 2017 would not be subject to Section 232 sanctions.”  This prior guidance had suggested that the focus of implementation of Section 232 would not be on Nord Stream 2 or Turkstream (either line), because these projects were “initiated” before August 2, 2017.


Continue Reading US Clarifies Secondary Sanctions on Nord Stream 2

Following a joint request from several EU national competent authorities (“NCAs”), the European Commission issued an opinion on asset freeze measures imposed on non-EU entities that are controlled by designated persons targeted by EU Council Regulation No 269/2014. The Regulation concerns restrictive measures in respect of actions undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine (“the Regulation”). In its opinion, the Commission takes position on the interpretation of article 2 of the Regulation, which requires EU operators to freeze all funds and economic resources belonging to, owned, held or controlled by persons designated in Annex I to the Regulation. EU operators are also prohibited from making funds or economic resources available, directly or indirectly, to these designated persons. The guidance provided by the Commission is of particular relevance to credit and financial institutions that may be required to comply with EU asset freeze measures.

The NCAs asked the Commission a number of questions in connection with the interpretation of paragraph 63 of the EU Best Practices Guidance, which sets out the criteria to be taken into account when assessing whether a legal person or entity is controlled by another person or entity. The EU Best Practices are non-binding recommendations which aim to promote the uniform implementation of EU sanctions.


Continue Reading European Commission Provides Guidance on the Scope of the Asset Freeze under the EU’s Ukraine-Related Sanctions

On December 31, 2019, the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas threw out a $2 million fine issued in 2017 by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations (URSR), 31 C.F.R. § 589.  The much-awaited opinion held that OFAC did not provide “fair notice” that the URSR prohibited dealing in contracts signed by a sanctioned individual on behalf of a non-sanctioned company, prior to the issuance of the penalty.

In reaching its decision, the Court concluded that the language of the URSR did not “’fairly address’ whether a US entity receives a service from [a Specially Designated National (SDN)] when that SDN performs a service enabling the US person to contract with a non-blocked entity.” Moreover, public statements made by relevant US government officials in 2014—some of which could be read to conflict—did not “create ascertainable certainty” of OFAC’s intention with respect to the URSR’s application. (The Court also held that contemporaneous reports by media outlets were not probative of OFAC’s regulatory intent.)


Continue Reading District Court Throws Out OFAC Penalty, Citing Due Process, Unclear Regulations

On April 25, 2019, OFAC announced that Haverly Systems, Inc. (“Haverly”), a New Jersey software company, had agreed to pay $75,375 to settle apparent violations from 2014 related to Haverly’s collection of payments from JSC Rosneft (“Rosneft”), a Russian oil major on OFAC’s Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (“SSI”) list. The key issue was OFAC’s finding that Haverly accepted the payments from Rosneft outside of the then-applicable 90-day window and thereby dealt in the restricted “new debt” of Rosneft. This appears to be the first time OFAC has published a settlement involving violations of the SSI list Directives, and underscores the importance for companies subject to US jurisdiction of monitoring invoicing and payments with SSI list entities and their subsidiaries. Non-US companies may also face “secondary sanctions” risk under Section 228 of CAATSA, on which we have previously advised, for certain types of transactions with SSI list designees. See also our previous advisory on OFAC’s SSI list sanctions, along with our previous discussion of the CAATSA-mandated changes to those sanctions.

Pursuant to Directive 2 under Executive Order 13662 and § 589.201 of OFAC’s Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, US persons are prohibited from transacting or otherwise dealing in “new debt” of longer than certain stated maturity periods of SSI list designees or any entities of which they own 50% or more. At the time of this apparent violation, the relevant maturity period was 90 days.[1] “Debt” is defined broadly to include any “extensions of credit.” OFAC has stated in FAQ guidance that open payment terms, such as the time permitted to pay commercial invoices, also fall within the scope of “new debt.”
Continue Reading New Jersey Software Company Settles with OFAC for Accepting Late Payments from Rosneft

On February 13, 2019, the State Department provided a summary of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which stated that “Secretary Pompeo reiterated the US determination to hold Russia accountable for its use of a chemical weapon in Salisbury, UK through sanctions as required by the CBW Act.”  The sanctions Secretary Pompeo referenced are the second round of sanctions slated to be imposed on Russia under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) for that country’s use of a nerve agent against a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom.  The decision to impose the second round of CBW Act sanctions was announced in November of last year, but there has largely been radio silence from the administration over the past few months with respect to a timetable for imposition or the type of sanctions to be imposed.  While the summary of Secretary Pompeo’s call did not provide any additional detail on those questions, it is notable as it indicates that despite the months of delay the administration is still expressing an intent to move ahead with the sanctions.
Continue Reading Secretary Pompeo: More Russia Sanctions Are Coming … Sometime

On September 20, 2018, the State Department announced sanctions on China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD) (formerly known as the General Armaments Department (GAD)) and its director, Li Shangfu, for engaging in significant transactions with Russia’s Rosoboronexport for the delivery to China of Su-35 combat aircraft in 2017 and equipment for S-400 surface-to-air missile systems in 2018. The EDD is part of the Chinese State Council’s Central Military Commission and plays a key role in the Chinese government’s international military cooperation efforts.

This marks the first time the US government has imposed sanctions under Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). It is also the most significant sanctions action taken by the US government to date under the CAATSA Russia sanctions authorities.  Notably, the Trump Administration chose the most severe measure available under the “menu” of sanctions available under Section 231 of CAATSA – the addition of the targeted persons to the Specially Designated Nationals (“SDN”) list – along with some other restrictions. 
Continue Reading Trump Administration Sanctions Key Chinese Military Entity under Russia Authorities