Since 2014, the US and EU have led western governments in imposing sanctions programmes against Russian individuals, companies and other entities, with measures including asset freezes, travel bans, and restrictions on finance and trade. These sanctions were first introduced in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early 2014 and its destabilisation of parts of eastern Ukraine, though some western governments have since broadened these programmes as a reaction to other malign Russian activities, in particular Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election and the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in 2018. Sanctions against Russia are divided into several categories: those targeting specific individuals or companies perceived to be close to President Putin or critical to the Russian economy; those affecting strategic sectors, including banking, energy and defence; and a blanket embargo on trade with companies in Crimea.
These sanctions are likely to remain in place throughout 2019 as Russia’s relationship with the west continues to deteriorate. The US House of Representatives, now controlled by the Democrats, will likely push for broadened measures, particularly as the investigation led by Robert Mueller into Russian election meddling nears its conclusion. The EU is also considering new sanctions in response to Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, most recently its capture of three Ukrainian navy vessels in the Sea of Azov in November 2018. The US Treasury offered some respite in January when it lifted sanctions on three companies linked to Russian businessman and Putin associate Oleg Deripaska. However, the move was prompted in part by the effect of sanctions on global aluminium prices and was agreed only after Deripaska reduced his controlling stakes in the companies. The decision to lift these sanctions, which was criticised by several US politicians, appears not to be indicative of a softening in the West’s approach to Russian sanctions more generally.
A variety of sanctions have been imposed on Belarus by the EU and US since 2004. The sanctions, which include travel bans, asset freezes, and prohibitions on transactions with certain individuals and companies, as well as an arms embargo, have been prompted by violations of international electoral standards, breaches of sanctions against Iran, North Korea and Syria, and human rights abuses, including the disappearances of opposition politicians and journalists.
The EU agreed to lift sanctions against the majority of individuals and companies in 2015 following President Lukashenka’s release of political prisoners and welcoming of international election observers, while the US has introduced temporary sanctions relief for entities on a six-month rolling basis. Nevertheless, four individuals linked to the disappearances of activists remain sanctioned, while the EU arms embargo is due to be extended in 2019.