24 May 2018

Russian lawmakers soften on sanctions bill while sticking to punishing 'abettors'

Russia lawmakers to soften draft legislation on international sanctions, but keep criminal prosecutions for critics.

Russian lawmakers have softened their line on sanctions, but remain adamant about criminal prosecutions of Kremlin critics who encourage foreign governments to target Russian officials, entities, or citizens with sanctions.The draft bill is part of Russia's response to US-imposed sanctions on Russian officials, tycoons, and companies. Russian lawmakers had delayed passage of the bill to consult with industry representatives and experts, after criticism from the business community. The original version of the bill provided for prison sentences of up to four years for those found guilty of actions ‘taken with the goal’ of complying with international sanctions. Speaking to the state-run TASS news agency following discussion of the legislation in the State Duma Ivan Melnikov, one of the bill's authors, said ‘Regarding abetting the introduction of sanctions against Russia, everyone believes that this should remain in the Criminal Code.’

'Abetting' sanctions

Mr Melnikov, who is the Duma's first deputy speaker, suggested the original proposal to criminalise sanctions compliance would be scrapped and replaced with administrative punishments, according to the Russian parliament's official newspaper. However, lawmakers support proposed criminal penalties for Russian citizens who ‘abet’ the introduction of sanctions by foreign governments to punish Russia's leadership. The original proposal was aimed at Kremlin opponents who have lobbied US and European lawmakers to target Russian officials and alleged rights abusers with sanctions, and it provided for prison sentences of up to three years for those found guilty. A separate legislative package in response to US sanctions passed on May 22 would give the Russian government the authority to ban trade in certain items with countries that ‘implement unfriendly moves toward Russia.’ The Draft Law on Countersanctions removed express references to key sectors and goods/services, including pharmaceuticals, nuclear, aeronautical and advisory services.