Russia

On Sunday, July 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree putting shares of Danone Russia JSC, owned by French yogurt maker Danone, and of Baltika Brewing Company, owned by Danish brewer Carlsberg A/S, under “temporary management.”

The Kremlin has since reportedly appointed Yakub Zakriev, deputy prime minister and agriculture minister of Chechnya, as head of the Danone business.[1] Mr. Zakriev has been described as a close ally of Ramzan Kadyrov, the notorious leader of the Chechen Republic, and himself a close ally of President Putin.[2] Meanwhile, Taimuraz Bolloev, a longtime friend of Putin, has been installed as director of Carlsberg’s Baltika business.[3]

These recent seizures follow a decree Putin signed in April, laying the groundwork to expropriate, damage, or otherwise impair the investments of companies from “unfriendly” countries—including the U.S., UK, Canada, all EU member states, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.[4] This is the second time Russia has used the decree to seize assets. Previously, Russia took control of utilities owned by Finland’s Fortum Oyj and Germany’s Uniper SE.[5]

These Russian actions demonstrate the significant risks for foreign companies that continue to operate in Russia and signal further potential asset seizures, including the possible transfer of foreign assets to regime-friendly owners. Russia’s measures appear to constitute uncompensated expropriations, for which investors could seek redress under Russia’s network of bilateral investment treaties (BITs).[6]

In prior Covington alerts, we have discussed how foreign investors in Russia can protect their investments from Russian retaliatory measures by ensuring that they have access to international arbitration, including through BITs. We also have highlighted certain key protections available under BITs that may provide recourse to foreign investors affected by Russia’s recent measures. In this alert, we focus on those protections under Russian BITs of most direct relevance to foreign investors whose assets have been expropriated or that have had the management of that investment obstructed by Russia’s actions, present and future.

Key Protections in Russian BITs

Russia has BITs in force with over 60 countries, including many EU members (such as Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden) and countries such as Canada, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, the UK, and Ukraine. There is no BIT between Russia and the United States, but U.S. companies may nonetheless benefit from BIT protection if they hold their investments in Russia through a third country that does have a Russian BIT.

In its BITs, Russia has committed to, among other things, treat investors from the relevant countries in a fair and equitable manner, not to discriminate against such investors on the basis of nationality, not to expropriate their investments except under certain conditions and upon payment of adequate compensation, and to guarantee their right to freely transfer payments related to their investments out of Russia. All of these protections are relevant in the present context.Continue Reading Protecting Against Russia’s Asset Seizures: Investment Treaties May Provide a Remedy for Foreign Investors

Rebuilding Ukraine, with an estimated cost of around $1 trillion, will be an unprecedented undertaking given the massive scale and uncertain environment. Although the reconstruction details are still being determined, the main international donors are likely to be the EU and its Member States, international financial institutions, and the United States. And while large-scale efforts are unlikely to start across all of Ukraine until after a peace agreement is reached, limited recovery projects have already been launched and may be expanded.

Marshall Plan Times Ten

Russia’s war of aggression has generated enormous economic damage in Ukraine, not to mention over 140,000 civilian and military casualties. According to the latest World Bank estimates, the overall damage in Ukraine resulting from the war is already around $425 billion. This consisted of $135 billion in direct damage and $290 billion in disruptions to economic flows and production.

Longer-term, Ukraine foresees around $1 trillion necessary for post-war reconstruction over a ten-year period. Depending on the depth and destruction of the war, however, even this colossal estimate may increase over time. By comparison, the oft-invoked example of the Marshall Plan—America’s historic reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II—was around $100 billion in current dollars spread over four years and across seventeen European countries. Ukraine may require that times ten over ten years and could become the world’s largest reconstruction effort since 1945.

To help meet this need, the international community has begun organizing donors’ conferences of governments and companies interested in supporting and rebuilding Ukraine’s economy. In July 2022, the Ukraine Recovery Conference was held in Lugano, Switzerland, with the participation of five heads of state and government and 58 international delegations (representatives of governments and international organizations). In October 2022, Germany and the European Commission co-hosted in Berlin a conference of experts to develop ideas for Ukraine’s reconstruction.

On June 21-22, 2023, the Ukraine Recovery Conference convened in London with officials from 61 countries, leaders of 33 international organizations, and numerous companies. At the conference, the European Commission unveiled a €50 billion proposal for Ukraine (in grants and loans over three years) as part of its EU budget review, which the Council and Parliament will now need to discuss and decide upon. The EU along with several international financial institutions signed agreements worth over €800 million to mobilize private investment for Ukraine. And over 500 firms signed the Ukraine Business Compact committing to supporting Ukraine’s reconstruction. The next conference will convene again in Berlin in 2024.Continue Reading Ukraine’s Reconstruction

On 23 June 2023, the Council of the European Union (the “Council”) adopted a new package of economic sanctions against Russia. In addition to new asset-freezing designations, this eleventh package of sanctions includes new trade, transport and financial restrictive measures.

In recent weeks the UK has implemented various amendments to its existing sanctions regimes targeting Russia and Belarus, including the expansion of the UK’s Belarus-related sanctions regime to include certain restrictions previously introduced with respect to Russia and restrictions on the provision by UK persons of certain legal services.  The UK has also amended a number of General Licenses applicable to these two sanctions regimes and introduced new General Licenses, and updated aspects of its sanctions-related guidance, as detailed below.

Summary of New EU Russia Sanctions

Asset-freezing Designations

Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2023/1216 designates additional individuals and entities to the EU asset-freezing list. The new designations include Russian government and military officials as well as Russian IT companies and the two Russian banks, MRB Bank and CMR Bank, which operate in the non-government controlled Ukrainian territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

Council Regulation (EU) 2023/1215 broadens the listing criteria upon which specific designations can be made under EU sanctions against Russia, to include, inter alia, the significant frustration of EU sanctions as a basis for designation. The regulation also introduces new derogations, including a derogation for the winding down of a Russian joint venture co-owned with the designated individual Alexey Alexandrovits Mordashov as well as a derogation allowing the disposal of certain types of securities held with specified listed entities.Continue Reading EU and UK Adopt New Sanctions Against Russia

This week’s report by the World Meteorological Organisation makes for alarming reading.  The report warns there is a 66% likelihood of exceeding the 1.5°C threshold in at least one year between 2023 and 2027 and notes that such a rapid change in global temperatures will take the world into ‘uncharted territory’, with an anticipated El Nino weather system likely to push already high temperatures even higher this year.  Since we have already seen the impact of a 1.1°C rise, the conclusions of the WMO report are deeply uncomfortable.

This blog looks at some of the data which give context to the Report’s conclusions.

Gas

Russia is the world’s largest natural gas exporter; the second-largest exporter of crude oil; and the third-largest producer of crude oil.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine spooked global gas markets and pushed prices to record highs – the TTF European gas price peaked at a record €343/MWh in August (equivalent in oil terms to more than $500 a barrel).  But as world gas markets have adjusted, the price has fallen – €75 per megawatt hour at the end of December and under €50/MWh by the end of April 2023.

Like global markets, the EU has demonstrated remarkable agility in its response to Russia’s invasion. In 2020, Russia supplied nearly 43% of all EU energy imports. The EU set itself the target of reducing Russian gas imports to 55 bcm/year by March 2023 (down from 158 bcm in 2021).   At the time, this seemed ambitious, but in the event, the EU easily exceeded that target and, by October 2022, the EU’s Russian gas imports had fallen to 38 bcm (12 % of the EU’s energy consumption).

Last spring, the EU required that Member States’ winter storage be 90% full by the end of autumn.  Again, at the time, that seemed a tough ask in the face of global constraints on alternative supplies. But in any event, the EU easily exceed the target, reaching 96% by the beginning of November 2022.

A combination of factors means the outlook for the EU is more positive than expected:

  • A mild winter meant the EU emerged with record high gas inventories (EU storage was 56% full);
  • The success of demand-side efficiencies (the Commission set a cross-EU efficiency target of 15% reduction in demand: the EU reduced demand by an average 19%);
  • Global gas markets have been nimble in responding to EU demand for non-Russian gas.  New and alternative supplies flowed in from Norway, Qatar, the US and (importantly) Algeria through existing, but under-used pipelines and new LNG capacity;
  • The EU has built new LNG infrastructure at record speed – with Germany opening its first LNG jetty in November 2022.

Continue Reading The Climate Crisis

On 28 October 2022, the European Commission (the “Commission”) adopted the  second amendment to its Temporary Crisis Framework for State Aid measures to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia (the “Framework”). The second amendment to the Framework extends its duration by one year until 31 December 2023.

The four most important things you need to know about this amendment are:

  • Maximum aid amounts have been increased;
  • Guarantees or subsidised interests can now cover larger amounts of loans when taken by large energy utilities companies that provide financial collateral for trading activities on energy markets. Exceptionally, guarantees can also be provided as unfunded financial collateral directly to central counterparts or clearing members to cover the liquidity needs of energy companies, to clear their trading activities on energy markets;
  • To achieve the EU targets of reducing electricity consumption in response to high energy prices, Member States may provide compensation for genuine reductions in electricity consumption; and
  • State recapitalisations are not subject to detailed rules as under the COVID-19 Temporary Framework, however the Commission highlights the general principles it will use to assess them on a case-by-case basis. 

Continue Reading The Commission prolongs and amends its Temporary Crisis Framework relaxing State aid rules to support the economy following the aggression against Ukraine by Russia

In recent weeks, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has further expanded the scope of sanctions targeting Russia in response to its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and its purported annexation of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. The U.S. Department of Commerce also has expanded export controls against Russia and Belarus. These measures are in addition to the new EU and UK sanctions and export controls announced last week and covered in our October 10 client alert.

On September 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued guidance that the United States is prepared to more aggressively use its existing authorities to impose sanctions against persons who provide material support to or for sanctioned persons or sanctionable activity, with a particular emphasis on entities and individuals in jurisdictions outside of Russia that provide political or economic support for Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory. This guidance was accompanied by a series of new designations to OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”), including a Chinese firm and an Armenian firm that were designated for having provided material support to a Russian firm that specializes in procuring foreign items for Russia’s defense industry.

On September 15, OFAC issued two new determinations: a determination pursuant to Executive Order (“E.O.”) 14024 and a determination pursuant to E.O. 14071. The first authorizes the imposition of property-blocking sanctions against persons determined to operate in, or to have operated in, the quantum computing sector of the Russian economy. The second prohibits U.S. persons, with limited exceptions, from providing quantum computing services to any person located in Russia.

On September 9, OFAC issued preliminary guidance concerning a ban on a broad range of services related to the maritime transportation of Russian-origin crude oil and petroleum products (collectively “seaborne Russian oil”). The ban will take effect on December 5, 2022 with respect to maritime transportation of Russian crude oil and on February 5, 2023 with respect to maritime transportation of Russian petroleum products. The ban will include an exception for the receipt of services by jurisdictions or actors that purchase seaborne Russian oil at or below a price cap to be established by a coalition of countries including members of the G7, the EU, and the United States.

Additionally, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) amended the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) on September 15 to (i) expand the scope of the Russian industry sector export restrictions to cover additional items, including quantum computing and advanced manufacturing-related hardware, software, and technology, and to apply the industry sector export restrictions to Belarus; (ii) add dollar value exclusion thresholds to some earlier restrictions on luxury goods exports to Russia; and (iii) expand the scope of the military end-user and military-intelligence end-user rules to reach entities in third countries, with a particular focus on entities that support military or military-intelligence end users or end uses in Russia or Belarus. On September 30, following Russia’s announcement that it would annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine, BIS added dozens of entities to its Entity List, which imposes BIS licensing requirements for the export, reexport, or transfer (in-country) to such entities of any goods, technology, and software that are subject to the EAR.Continue Reading The United States Imposes Additional Sanctions and Export Controls Against Russia and Belarus

Russia is no longer a partner of the European Union; Ukraine has been accepted as a candidate member; the United States supply weapons and advanced intelligence to an ex-Soviet Union member; NATO is back on the front stage; the UK and Turkey are part of a new ‘European Political Community’… Nobody, a year ago, could have predicted these dramatic changes on the European chessboard. And Vladimir Putin’s behaviour is making these changes increasingly irreversible.

An assessment follows about the current situation, what it means for the transatlantic relationship, what it changes in the debate on enlargement in the European Union and what might be its implications for the future.

The war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine did not start in February 2022. It started in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and launched military operations in the Eastern Ukrainian oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. But the reaction of the world at the time was rather subdued: the Obama administration condemned the annexation of Crimea but let France and Germany alone participate in the ‘Minsk process’ with Russia and Ukraine in the so called ‘Normandy format’. This process quickly entered into a deadlock – with Ukraine’s military  only discreetly supported and supplied by Western countries – and Putin concluding that there was therefore no real obstacle to the restoration of Russia’s lost Empire.

The scenario completely changed on February 24, 2022. What Russia called a ‘special military operation’ was seen by the rest of the world as a massive invasion of an independent country, the first ‘war of aggression’ in Europe since the end of world two and a violation of  the most basic principles of the UN charter and the current world order.Continue Reading Changes on the European chessboard

Background

As we previously reported, President Biden and Congress took steps in March 2022 to revoke Russia’s most-favored-nation (or “MFN”) trade status, known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations (“PNTR”) status under U.S. law.  As a result of these actions, the Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act (“Suspending NTR Act”) entered into force on April 8, 2022, formally revoking PNTR status for Russia and Belarus.  Under the terms of the Act, imports into the United States of products from Russia and Belarus became subject to tariff rates set out in column 2 of the U.S. tariff schedule, rather than the column 1 rates that had previously applied.  Column 2 tariff rates are often higher—sometimes much higher—than MFN tariff rates in column 1, and as a result of this change, tariffs on U.S. imports from Russia increased from an average of approximately three percent to 32 percent.  In addition to implementing this immediate change in applicable tariff rates, the Suspending NTR Act also temporarily authorized the President, through the end of 2023, to increase even further tariffs applicable to imports from Russia and Belarus.

On June 27, pursuant to the authority granted under the Suspending NTR Act, President Biden issued Presidential Proclamation 10420, announcing that the United States would further increase tariffs applicable to certain categories of imports from Russia, worth approximately $2.3 billion annually.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) recently issued guidance on these tariff increases, which will apply effective July 27, 2022.  This alert provides additional information on the forthcoming tariff increases, and discusses potential implications for importers of Russian goods.

Overview of July 27 Tariff Rate Increase on Certain U.S. Imports from Russia

Since revocation of PNTR status in April, products imported into the United States from Russia and Belarus have been subject to tariff rates set forth in column 2 of the U.S. tariff schedule.  Under the terms of Presidential Proclamation 10420, however, duty rates of 35 percent ad valorem will apply to 570 categories of Russian products in lieu of column 2 rates, beginning July 27, 2022.  These product categories have an estimated value of approximately $2.3 billion annually.  The Proclamation does not impact imports from Belarus, which will remain subject to column 2 tariff rates.Continue Reading Increased Tariffs on Certain U.S. Imports from Russia Effective July 27, 2022: What Companies Need to Know

On June 23, 2022, the UK introduced a series of further trade restrictions in relation to Russia, including in connection with certain security-related goods and technology, iron and steel products, communications interception and monitoring services, jet fuel and fuel additives, UK or EU currency banknotes and a broad category of “revenue generating goods” which includes a range of items used by various industries. The UK supplemented these measures with additional asset-freezing sanctions on June 29.

This alert summarizes these new sanctions measures and touches upon further recent UK sanctions developments, including proposals for further restrictions on the import of gold into the UK and Russian access to UK trusts services.

New Trade Restrictions

The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 10) Regulations 2022 further amended the UK’s Russia sanctions Regulations (the “UK-Russia Regulations”) to introduce the new trade restrictions outlined, which came into force on June 23, 2022.Continue Reading UK Introduces Further Sanctions Measures Relating to Russia

On June 6 and June 9, 2022, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued additional guidance on the sanctions that prohibit U.S. persons from making a “new investment” in Russia and from providing accounting, trust and corporate formation, and management consulting services to any person located in Russia.

Separately, from June 15, 2022, the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) gained new powers to impose financial penalties for breaches of UK sanctions regulations (including, but not limited to, the UK sanctions regulations with respect to Russia) on a strict liability basis and to publish reports of cases where it is satisfied that a breach of financial sanctions has occurred but where no penalty is imposed.

This alert summarizes these new sanctions developments.

New U.S. Sanctions Developments

Guidance on the Prohibitions on “New Investment” by U.S. Persons in Russia

On June 6, 2022, OFAC issued guidance in the form of responses to new frequently asked questions (“FAQs”) to clarify certain aspects of the prohibitions on “new investment” in Russia by U.S. persons that were imposed under the following executive orders (“E.O.s”):

  • E.O. 14066, issued on March 8, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in the energy sector of the Russian Federation, as described in our March 10 alert); 
  • E.O. 14068, issued on March 11, 2022 (prohibiting new investment by U.S. persons in any sector of the Russian Federation economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State); and 
  • E.O. 14071, issued on April 6, 2022 (prohibiting “all new investment in the Russian Federation by U.S. persons, wherever located” as well as “any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 14071 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States,” as described in our April 11 alert.

Continue Reading Recent Developments in U.S. and UK Sanctions: OFAC Guidance on “New Investment” and Prohibition on the Provision of Certain Services to Any Person in Russia; UK Sanctions Enforcement Developments