Prime minister David Cameron has related news of ‘strong, robust and powerful’ trade, financial and economic sanctions being devised by the EU for use if Russia intervenes in eastern Ukraine. The Russian government seems poised to respond by confiscating various foreign-owned assets.
It is not for the Gazette to comment on the effectiveness or timidity of all this. But it is worth recording what is at risk from the turn events have taken. Most immediately in Moscow, 1,200-plus lawyers working for US and UK-origin law firms that have an oil and gas practice face an uncertain future.
The bigger risk is the threat to the way business is conducted and disputes are resolved. The presence of international law firms in Moscow since the mid-1990s represented important capacity-building. Russia was growing towards a jurisdiction where, in some important parts, private agreements could be relied on with increasing confidence – albeit through the use of English law and foreign forums.
Of course, business is conducted in the absence of the rule of law, but at higher cost and with less confidence. In the place of law, patronage and politics are used to resolve disputes – the uncommercial, arbitrary result is a tendency to pick one large winner in any one market.
In the long-run this self-inflicted wound could harm Russia’s economy in ways that sanctions alone do not.