The partial sanctions program that the U.S. has imposed on Russia is enabled by a complex web of statutes, executive orders, and implementing regulations. It includes new types of restrictions that have not previously been interpreted. The author describes the elements of the regime and the difficulties of compliance. He concludes that uncertainties in the program may discourage companies from engaging in transactions not expressly prohibited, thus giving the sanctions a broader reach than their actual legal scope. Russia’s involvement in the unrest in Ukraine has led the United States and other countries to impose economic sanctions on Russia. The sanctions do not constitute a comprehensive embargo, but rather seek to apply targeted pressure on Russia’s defense, energy, and financial sectors, as well as companies and individuals identified as having a disruptive involvement in Ukrainian affairs. Because most types of economic interaction with Russia are still allowed, the sanctions in some respects present greater compliance challenges than other U.S. sanctions programs, such as for Sudan, that have broadly banned virtually all economic interaction.
This article reviews the legal bases of the U.S. sanctions on Russia and their general implications for companies doing business with that country. As discussed below, the U.S. sanctions on Russia have been adopted mainly through Presidential Executive Orders issued under authority of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)1 and pre-existing discretionary authority under the Export Administration Regulations.2