Technology equity markets took a sharp turn in the last two months of Q1 2022, with S&P Technology Index reaching to over 18% in the red in mid-March, before closing the quarter at 7% off.  In the last month, across all sectors, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has rattled markets and dented investor appetite amid increased volatility and uncertainty.  The decline in valuations is being impacted by the combined headwinds of rising inflation and interest rates, as well as geopolitical uncertainty. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered an unprecedented phenomenon: global technology firms responded to the invasion by suspending or terminating business operations, effectively self-sanctioning beyond regulatory requirements, often at great expense to bottom lines.  This trend will likely continue – in 2022 decisions about where to invest and who to accept investment from will be driven by ethical concerns, as well as the shifting geopolitical risks.  However, as we will see in this article, many tech businesses struggle to fully abandon their presence in Russia.

This article highlights some of the ways in which the Ukraine crisis is changing tech M&A.

Expanded scope of Due Diligence

As tech companies embark on M&A deals, proactive and effective risk management will be more essential than ever.  Enhanced focus on these issues is likely to translate to expansion of transaction timelines.

Continue Reading Ukraine Crisis:  Changing M&A Transactions for Technology Companies

On April 20, 2022, the cybersecurity authorities of the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—the so-called “Five Eye” governments—announced the publication of Alert AA22-110A, a Joint Cybersecurity Advisory (the “Advisory”) warning critical infrastructure organizations throughout the world that the Russian invasion of Ukraine could expose them “to increased malicious cyber activity from Russian state-sponsored cyber actors or Russian-aligned cybercrime groups.”  The Advisory is intended to update a January 2022 Joint Cybersecurity Advisory, which provided an overview of Russian state-sponsored cyber operations and tactics, techniques, and procedures (“TTPs”).

In its announcement, the authorities urged critical infrastructure network defenders in particular “to prepare for and mitigate potential cyber threats by hardening their cyber defenses” as recommended in the Advisory.

Overview.  The Advisory notes that “evolving intelligence” indicates that the Russian government is exploring options for potential cyber attacks and that some cybercrime groups have recently publicly pledged support for the Russian government and threatened to conduct cyber operations on behalf of the Russian government.  The Advisory summarizes TTPs used by five state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (“APT”) groups, two Russian-aligned cyber threat groups, and eight Russian-aligned cybercrime groups.  Additionally, it provides a list of mitigations and suggests that critical infrastructure organizations should implement certain mitigations “immediately.”

Russian State-Sponsored Cyber Operations.  The Advisory notes that Russian state-sponsored cyber actors have “demonstrated capabilities” to compromise networks; maintain long-term, persistent access to networks; exfiltrate sensitive data from information technology (“IT”) and operational technology (“OT”) networks; and disrupt critical industrial control systems (“ICS”) and OT networks by deploying destructive malware.  The Advisory details five Russian APT groups:
Continue Reading International Cybersecurity Authorities Issue Joint Advisory on Russian Cyber Threats to Critical Infrastructure

Russia’s continued invasion of Ukraine is broadly impacting foreign direct investment (“FDI”) screening. A range of governments have announced they will apply close scrutiny to investments from Russia and its allied countries in general, and not only to investors that are subject to sanctions or other restrictive measures. The European Commission (“Commission”) has published guidance on the screening of investments from Russia and Belarus.

The German government has already intervened, appointing a fiduciary for an operator of critical gas infrastructure. Canada issued a policy statement targeting Russian investors and Italy permanently broadened its FDI regime. Our blog provides a summary of these developments below.

Commission Communication calls for systematic assessment of Russian and Belarusian investments

On 6 April 2022, the Commission published a Communication (“Communication”) with guidance on screening of FDI from Russia and Belarus. The Communication emphasizes greater vigilance towards Russian and Belarusian investments into the EU and stresses that FDI screening goes beyond investments by persons or entities that are subject to sanctions. While the Communication is a direct response to the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine, it also elaborates on more general principles of FDI screening in the EU.

The Commission calls upon Member States to systematically assess and prevent threats related to Russian and Belarusian investments. In particular, the Commission encourages Member States to ensure close cooperation both on the national and EU level in relation to FDI screening activities, as well as in the implementation of EU sanctions. The EU FDI Regulation already provides for such cooperation and facilitates information exchange among Member States and the Commission. In particular, Member States may learn about a transaction through the cooperation mechanism and assess FDI filing requirements within their own jurisdiction. As discussed in our blogpost concerning “One Year of the EU FDI Regulation”, Member States have found the cooperation mechanism to be “a very useful instrument” and to have fostered valuable discussions in relation to transaction screening and critical sectors.

But a number of Member States do not have FDI screening regimes in place, including Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden. Where FDI regimes are not yet in place or do not allow for pre-investment screening, the Commission calls to urgently set up a comprehensive FDI screening mechanism and in the meantime to use other suitable legal instruments to address security or public order risks. For those Member States that are in the process of setting up a screening mechanism, the Commission calls on them to accelerate adoption and prepare implementation, including supporting it with appropriate resources.

The Communication notes the potential screening of FDI after the completion of a transaction. While FDI screening is usually undertaken before closing of a transaction, the EU FDI Screening Regulation also allows for the screening of FDI post-closing. If a Member State launches the formal screening of an FDI, it is subject to EU cooperation mechanism irrespective of its planned or completed status. Furthermore, the cooperation mechanism may be initiated within 15 months after the investment has been completed when an investment is not subject to screening at national level. This may occur when the Member State does not have a screening mechanism or when the Member State maintains a screening mechanism but the specific FDI transaction was not submitted by the parties for ex-ante screening.

The Commission reports that based on 2020 data, Russian individuals or entities control about 17,000 EU companies, and have potentially controlling stakes in another 7,000 companies and minority stakes in a further 4,000 companies. The Commission strongly encourages Member States to apply FDI screening to intra-EU investments that are ultimately controlled by Russian or Belarusian persons or entities. In that context, the Communication describes the conditions under which Member States may be permitted to impose restrictions on the free movement of capital and freedom of establishment.
Continue Reading FDI regulators show their teeth – Close scrutiny and firm intervention in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine

Responding to Covid 19 has left many countries’ foreign exchange reserves dangerously low, with countries whose economies relied on tourism particularly badly affected.  The economic rebound as the Western world’s highly-vaccinated populations emerged from lockdowns and began spending, caused supply chain tightness, sparking the beginnings of an inflationary spike.  The Russia-Ukraine crisis has exacerbates that

This alert provides a further update on the rapidly evolving sanctions landscape with regard to the Ukraine crisis, further to our alerts on February 22 and February 25. On 25 February 2022, the European Union adopted an additional package of targeted and sectoral sanctions against Russia in response to its military actions in Ukraine. Those measures, which were announced earlier last week, include a range of new asset-freezing designations, financial sector restrictions, export controls, and other measures. The UK has also announced further economic sanctions against Russian individuals.

According to a joint statement issued by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the U.S., and the European Commission on 26 February, further economic sanctions yet will be introduced in the coming days. Those measures will include the removal of selected Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system using to facilitate global financial transactions.

New EU Targeted and Sectoral Sanctions

Additional Asset-freezing Designations

Council Implementing Regulation (EU) 2022/332 adds 98 people to the EU asset-freezing list. The list notably includes the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov, as well as other members of the Russian National Security Council. Sanctions will also be extended to the remaining members of the Russian State Duma, who ratified the government decision of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between the Russian Federation and the two Ukrainian non-government controlled regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The Regulation also targets individuals who facilitated the Russian military action from Belarus.

New EU Sectoral Sanctions

The most far-reaching measures are introduced in Council Regulation (EU) 2022/328 (the “Regulation”). The Regulation amends Regulation (EU) 833/2014, first issued in August 2014, which set out the EU’s existing Russia sectoral sanctions regime, and introduces new measures targeting various sectors of the Russian economy.

As with regard to the original version of Regulation 833/2014, the restrictions summarized below extend to the worldwide conduct of EU persons and entities, conduct aboard EU-flagged vessels and aircraft, and to non-EU parties with regard to business occurring in whole or in part within the EU.

The Regulation introduces the following new export and related services restrictions:

  • Restrictions on exports of dual-use goods and technology: The Regulation replaces the pre-existing prohibition on exports of dual-use goods and technology under Council Regulation 833/2014. The pre-existing prohibition was limited to the export of dual-use goods and technology that were intended for military use or for a military end-user; the amended Regulation expands that prohibition to restrict the export of dual-use goods and technology and the provision of related services to persons in Russia regardless of the intended end-use or end user.

While exports of dual-use items always required licensing for Russia pursuant to the EU Dual Use Regulation, these new restrictions expand on those measures in important ways. In particular, as the jurisdictional scope of the Regulation extends to the conduct abroad of EU persons and entities, dual-use export controls on Russia are no longer limited to exports from the EU – the Regulation’s dual-use controls could apply with regard to actions by EU persons and entities in connection with the sale, supply, or transfer of dual-use items to Russia from anywhere in the world.
Continue Reading EU and UK Adopt Additional Sanctions Against Russia, with Further International Sanctions Measures Announced