The Sanctity of Borderland: The Ukraine-Related Sanction Programs


Diritto del Commercio Internazionale

2015, vol. 1, pp.239-257

Departments: Tax & Law, GREGHEC (CNRS)

In October 2014 the Russian press agency ITAR-TASS has published a curious table picturing the Russian business entities targeted with international economic sanctions in relation to the political crisis in Ukraine (1). The table shows that these entities change depending on the country enacting the sanctions. For example Gazprombank, the third largest Russian bank, is targeted by the United States, the European Union, and Canada, while Bank Rossiya, which is the private bank of President Putin’s inner circle, is not subject to any sanction by the EU (2). By the same token, no sanction is established by the EU against privately owned companies, while the US, Canada and Australia target some, like Rosneft, the world’s largest oil producer. Moreover, while the EU addresses some entities making business in Crimea, like the sea transport company Sevastopol Commercial Seaport, the US does it only marginally, and so do Canada and Australia. Finally, only the US is active against companies operating in the military sector; in this regard, the EU targets only Concern Almaz-Antey, a firm specialized in anti-aircraft defence systems. As a whole, the table raises concerns as to the effectiveness of these «targeted sanctions», when they work in such an intermittent fashion.At the center of our analysis stand the economic sanctions adopted against certain private subjects participating in the uprising of the Eastern part of Ukraine against Kyiv’s central government (3). These sanctions are grounded on the alleged violation of the «sanctity» of Ukrainian borders—a quite curious qualification, though, given that Ukraine’s name itself means, in fact, «on the edge», «borderland» (4). If these sanctions represent the typical reaction to violations of international law perpetrated by the Russian Federation, why are they applied selectively? Which are the policies behind the choice of targeting one entity but not another? Arguably, a lack of coordination globally might ultimately frustrate the sanctions’ genuine goals and create inconsistencies in their enforcement.This article examines the reasons and consequences of such lack of coordination (5). It proceeds along with three lines. First, it investigates the factual premises that triggered the adoption of targeted sanctions (§ 2); second, it delineates the scope and effects of the targeted sanction regimes elaborated in the US and the EU (§ 3); finally, it highlights some flaws in the sanctions regimes as a whole (§ 4). In doing this, it tries to challenge the common impression that no one is doing anything with the Ukrainian crisis: someone is definitely doing something about the violations committed against Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The problem, yet, is that the system continues to be imperfect due to the existing differences among States in approaching individual targeted sanctions