After nearly a decade of deep-seated tension between Russia and Ukraine, Russia commenced its invasion on February 24th, 2022. According to the Wall Street Journal, the attack is “President Vladimir Putin’s most aggressive move yet to redraw the boundaries of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War more than 30 years ago.” During the last two weeks, Russia has strategically strengthened its forces in four major Ukrainian cities: Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson, and the capital of Kyiv. Putin has also threatened Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, with annexation. Due to the bombings, air raids, and the Russian army pillaging the country, Ukrainian citizens are fleeing their homes seeking refuge in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova. NATO members have responded to this unjustified attack by imposing financial and trade sanctions against Russia. This blog post will delve into the purpose, logistics, and violation penalties of trade sanctions. Insight has been provided by Experts.com Members and International Trade Experts, Jo-Anne Daniels and Rosemary Coates.
When warfare is mentioned, people tend to imagine soldiers fighting on the battlefield or the vast array of weaponry used to defeat enemies. As the world continues to develop, the modern concept of warfare seems to become more complex and multifaceted than in previous years. Rather than physically attacking countries, world leaders can choose to affect their enemy’s economy and trade deals through sanctions. Regarding the United States, Ms. Coates notes, “Sanctions are often used when America chooses to protect sensitive technology or punish a country for violating certain laws… When sanctions are applied, licenses for export are denied to the sanctioned country and the goods may not be shipped there.” In this case, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has prompted President Biden and other international officials to order trade sanctions to denounce Putin and cripple his economy to such an extent he can no longer continue his attack.
A couple reasons explain why various NATO members like the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have imposed sanctions rather than use military force, even to their own disadvantage. The first reason is Russia’s influence on European trade. A statistic from the European Commission states, “The EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 37.3% of the country’s total trade in goods with the world in 2020.” To add, Russia accounts for 26% of the EU’s oil imports and 40% of the EU’s gas imports. A physically combative response to the invasion would be potentially disastrous considering Russia’s nuclear capacity. Sanctions are the lesser of two evils because Europe relies on Russia’s export of oil and gas. They have chosen to endure financial damage over a possible bloody war. Although the United States is not heavily reliant on Russia for trade, it has followed suit by implementing trade sanctions. Ms. Coates stated, “all trade with Russia (except food and medical supplies) is now stopped.”
Another explanation centers around Ukraine’s relationship with NATO. The North Atlantic Council acknowledged Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner on June 12th, 2020 (NATO). Since Ukraine is a partner and not an actual member, NATO’s Collective Defense pledge, specifically Article 5 of the Washington Treaty stating “an attack against one Ally is considered an attack against all Allies,” is an inapplicable solution to the country’s plight (Washington Post). Given the Russian government’s unpredictable nature, the possibility of Article 5 being invoked will not be discounted since multiple NATO allies border both Russia and Ukraine (ABC News).
The repercussions of the Kremlin’s actions have significantly impacted the country’s economy and lifestyle to their detriment, alluding to these sanctions’ effectiveness. These sanctions catalyzed a mass exodus of multi-billion-dollar companies from Russia. These corporations include but are certainly not limited to American Airlines, General Motors, L’Oréal, Shell, John Deere, Goldman Sachs, McDonald’s, Starbucks, PepsiCo, Airbnb, Marriott International, DHL, Netflix, The Walt Disney Co., Mastercard, Pfizer, Deloitte, Amazon, Apple, and even Google (NBC News). Russian athletes are also affected by Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Professional tennis player, Daniil Medvedev, currently ranked No. 2 by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), may have to condemn President Putin if he wants to participate in Wimbledon (CNN). Another example is Nikita Mazepin’s firing from the Formula 1 racing lineup due to his father’s connections to the Russian government (Washington Post). Various outlets have reported Russia’s occurring financial losses will take decades to recover. “It’s pretty clear that Russia will become poorer and more technologically backward, the choices for its citizens will be radically diminished and for many, many years to come,” a quote from The Hill. The Russian citizens suffer different consequences because of Putin’s actions. The hope is that they put pressure on Putin, so he decides to halt his malicious efforts to usurp Ukraine. However, that is not an easy feat in a totalitarian society. Al Jazeera confirmed Putin had arrested more than 4,300 people at Russia-wide anti-war protests. For now, sanctions will continue to be issued by the international community.
Two government agencies are responsible for establishing sanctions in the United States. The first is the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (OFAC). OFAC deals with the authorization of economic and trade sanctions related to national security and foreign policy. The agency mainly targets any entity with a motive to antagonize the United States. OFAC releases an account of Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) when a sanction is issued. Ms. Daniels explains SDNs are “companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries.” Non-country-specific parties like narcotic traffickers and terrorists are also included in the report. For example, since Biden ordered sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs on February 23rd, 2022, the assets of said banks and oligarchs are blocked. Any U.S. company that willingly or inadvertently conducts business with sanctioned entities will receive penalties, which will be explained in detail later in the post.
The second agency is the U.S. Department of Commerce & Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). BIS manages U.S. export control policies for three categories: software, technology, and dual-use commodities (i.e., global positioning satellites, missiles, thermal imaging, etc.). According to Ms. Coates, “the export of technology or military items require more formal individual licenses.” As an agency also allowed to administer sanctions, BIS also releases a Consolidated Screening List (CSL) compiled of parties. The U.S. Government holds restrictions on specific exports, re-exports, and transmission of items. Ms. Daniels mentioned the BIS simultaneously issued sanctions against Russia and Belarus, allied with Russia, under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and licensing policies to defend U.S. national security. “Furthermore, the new BIS policy regarding the export, re-export, or transfer (in-country) of items that require a license for Russia or Belarus is under a policy of denial with certain limited exceptions. This means that if the export license is denied, the company must cease exporting its products to those countries,” Ms. Daniels stated. Although there are two agencies responsible for establishing sanctions, a third party wields this same power.
As previously mentioned, the President of the United States can also order sanctions against threatening companies, individuals, and countries. If sanctions are summoned through Executive Orders, they are established immediately. Otherwise, there will be a pause. For example, an Executive Order was made on March 8th, 2020, which banned both imports and investments with Russia. Because it continued to sabotage Ukraine’s sovereignty, the United States prohibited products such as “crude oil, petroleum fuels, oils, and products of their distillation, liquified natural gas, coal, and coal product of Russian Federation origin,” said Ms. Daniels. She adds that any written contract or agreements submitted before March 8th, 2022, will be authorized through 12:01 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time on April 22nd, 2022. According to Ms. Daniels, “The General License is available up to April 22nd, 2022, and then the Executive Order issued March 8th, 2022, takes full effect.” With the continuing invasion, NATO countries will issue sanctions to limit Putin’s efforts in undermining Ukraine’s independence.
Companies that violate OFAC and BIS regulations can be subject to civil and criminal punishment. These penalties range from paying hefty fines to serving jail time. Ms. Daniels provided examples of two different companies that have broken regulation policies for both agencies:
- OFAC: Pennsylvania-based software company, SAP, paid $2,132,174 as a settlement for potential civil liability for 190 OFAC violations. The company was exporting software to Iran, a U.S.-sanctioned country.
- BIS: In 2014, the Virginia-based business, Patriot 3 Inc., traded maritime jet-boots to the Russian Government Federal Guard Service without an export license. Last year, BIS charged the company for violating this rule of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). Patriot 3 Inc. agreed to pay $200,000 as a penalty. If Patriot 3 Inc. is untimely with its settlement, the BIS will invalidate its export privileges for two years.
To avoid unintentionally breaking the law, both agencies implore businesses to be vigilant of export regulations, entities classified as SDNs, and parties on the CSL.
The full extent of economic and trade sanctions against Russia are yet to be seen. However devasting they may be, for Russia and its population, does not compare with the death and destruction that has already occurred in Ukraine. A special thank you to International Trade Experts, Jo-Anne Daniels, and Rosemary Coates for their contribution to Experts.com’s latest blog post.