‘Russia, Ukraine and International Sanctions’: Valeriya Stepanuyk visits the panel discussion at Pushkin House (10/07/2014


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Pushkin House is famous as an oasis of Russian culture in London – not only does it answer the nostalgia of a post-Soviet diaspora, but also familiarizes the British public with current trends in Russian arts, history, philosophy and politics. With many people’s minds now occupied with the Ukrainian crisis, Pushkin House hosted a panel discussion about the legal impact of Ukraine and Russia sanctions, where experts sought to familiarize the audience with the legal basis for them, and explain how they work. Outlining and analyzing the differences between the EU and the US approach in such matters, the panel sought to clarify the impact of sanctions both on businesses and on us, the ordinary people.

The panel itself consisted of leading experts from a range of sectors, which in turn stimulated high-level discussion. As is widely known, a number of states have introduced sanctions against various Ukrainian politicians, businessmen and military officers close to the former Ukrainian Administration. They have also imposed them on several Russian state officials and businessmen deemed responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine, breaching its territorial integrity and sovereignty.  Among the states which have imposed sanctions are the US, the EU, Canada, Liechtenstein, Australia and Switzerland.

The evening was designed to be both educational and practical – the theoretical part of the discussion was backed up by real cases from those industries which had to deal with the impact of sanctions on the Business World. Oleg Babinov, the Director of Russia, Europe and Eurasia at the Risk Advisory Group, began the discussion by giving an excellent account of sanctions imposed on Russian state officials and businessmen, and on former members of the Ukrainian Administration who were close to Victor Yanukovich. By describing the nature of the sanctions, he made clear the distinction between different kinds and explained why the particular subjects of sanctions were on the list in the first place.

To those who might question the whole validity of sanctions, arguing that they neither changed attitudes nor had any significant impact, panel member and QC Tim Owen responded thus: that if the alternative to sanctions were war, then sanctions themselves were preferable. With his explanation of the different kinds of sanctions, Mr. Owen illustrated how they could influence the political behaviour of the state, and thus be much more effective than engagement in a full-scale conflict. Randy Bregman, a US sanctions specialist, expanded on this, pointing out that sanctions in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis differed significantly from those previously imposed on Cuba, Iran or Syria.  If the sanctions on the latter were long term, and their purpose to harm the economy and have a strong political effect, the Ukraine-Russia sanctions are believed to be short-term and focused instead on forcing the Kremlin to change their whole approach in Ukraine. In other words, the sanctions in the modern, post 9/11 world, have become part of the new “normal”, since their purpose is not legal: they are intended not to stop corruption or to inflict economic damage on business, but rather are designed to pressurise members of the Russian Administration into calling for changes in Russian Governmental attitudes.

Such nuances were key to understanding the nature of the sanctions themselves and the choices of individuals who were put on the lists. As Mr. Raza Hussain, a QC of Matrix Chambers, explained – in order for a state or institution to introduce sanctions now, there is no need to find evidence of a person having some sort of relation to the crime – sanctions can be introduced merely on the basis of suspecting an individual to have engaged in “unlawful” action. Thus, while some individuals on the list were not directly involved in embezzlement of state funds or human rights violations, and may have had no direct relation to the annexing of Crimea, they may be deemed responsible for behind-the -scenes actions with regard to the event. Irina Tymczyszyn, a partner at Bryan Cave,  speaking about the legal impact of sanctions on business, once again pointed to the importance of understanding these nuances in Law, especially when it comes down to assessing how to respond to sanctions imposed.

The event ended with a small networking reception, where participants engaged in further discussion of the subject.  Everyone left with plenty to consider, enlightened about the complex political processes that dominate the current news.

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