On August 2, President Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA), which imposes new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
While President Trump noted his view that the legislation was “significantly flawed”, its passage represents the successful culmination of months of Congressional negotiations and its provisions will have an immediate and material impact, particularly on companies undertaking transactions in Russia.
CAATSA represents, in effect, the combination of three separate pieces of legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Each piece of the legislation contains a series of new restrictions, but several key highlights are summarized below:
- Russia: New Primary Sanction Authorities: CAATSA provides the President with new authorities to sanction (1) persons knowingly engaging in significant activities undermining cybersecurity on behalf of the Russian Government; (2) non-U.S. persons who evade existing Russia-related sanctions; (3) non-U.S. persons responsible for, complicit in, or otherwise directing, the commission of serious human rights abuses in Russia; and (4) non-U.S. persons who provide significant support that materially contributes to the ability of the Government of Syria to acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, or other similar items (e.g., those on the U.S. Munitions List). The Legislation does not itself designate any persons
- Russia: Sectoral Sanctions – Reduced Payment Terms and New Sectors: The Legislation modifies existing restrictions by reducing permissible maturity periods under Directive 1 and Directive 2 (from 30 and 90 days to 14 and 60 days, respectively) and expanding the territorial scope of Directive 4 to certain types of oil exploration and production activities globally, not just in Russia. Second, it also authorizes the expansion of sectoral sanctions to state-owned enterprises in Russia’s mining, metals, and railway sectors.
- Russia: Secondary Sanctions on Defense, Intelligence, and Export Pipelines Sectors: The Legislation imposes several new mandatory and discretionary “secondary” sanctions. These include (1) mandatory secondary sanctions on persons conducting “significant” transactions with Russia’s defense or intelligence sectors (or persons operating in that sector); (2) discretionary secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons undertaking an investment or providing goods, services, or support for the construction of Russian energy export pipelines; (3) mandatory secondary sanctions on persons making an investment in excess of certain thresholds in the privatization of Russian state-owned assets in a way that unjustly benefits Russian officials or their families; and (4) modifies, to make mandatory, existing secondary sanctions on non-U.S. persons undertaking significant transactions in support of exploration or production of oil from shale, arctic offshore, or deep-water locations in Russia.
- Russia: Codification of Existing Sanctions: The Legislation also codifies all of the existing Executive Orders on Russia (both those related to Ukraine and to Cyber activities) as well as the existing designations as of August 2, 2017. While the President retains discretion to relax the provisions, the Legislation requires that he provide advance notice and written justification for any such relaxations, and then allow Congress at least 30 days to potentially object to the relaxation.
- North Korea: The Legislation imposes a series of new designation authorities for the President, which broadly relate to persons that are in violation of existing U.S. and United Nations sanctions on North Korea. CAATSA also imposes new obligations on U.S. financial institutions to cut-off correspondent account access for non-U.S. financial institutions that might indirectly be benefiting North Korea. Finally, it calls on the administration to consider re-designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
- Iran: Similarly, the Iran-related aspects of the Legislation primarily focuses on providing the President with a series of new designation-related authorities that focus on Iran’s non-nuclear related activities (e.g., ballistic missile testing, support to terrorism, and enforcing arms embargoes).
- National Strategy To Combat Terrorism Finance: Finally, the Legislation calls for the development of a national strategy to combat terrorism finance and it opens the opportunity for private sector engagement in the development of that strategy.
CAATSA’s passage has already provoked immediate responses from not only its targets – Russia has requested the removal of several hundred U.S. diplomatic personnel and threatened additional retaliation while Iran has accused the United States of violating the nuclear deal – but U.S. allies, including Germany and Austria who have called CAATSA’s provisions “unacceptable” and indicate they will not “tolerate” sanctions being imposed on their companies pursuant to its provisions.