The UK has placed new sanctions on Russia, blocking its citizens and businesses from purchasing an array of services from British firms, over the Kremlin’s decision to annex four regions of Ukraine.
The new sanctions seek to further damage Russia’s economy by hindering the country’s access to IT consultancy, architectural, engineering, accounting, and commercial legal services from UK firms.
Russia currently imports more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of its services from countries that have already sanctioned the Russian Federation over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian Federation is particularly on the UK for audit and commercial legal services due to London’s position as one of the world’s leading professional services hubs.
The new sanctions expand on the UK government’s May package that banned service firms including consultancies and PR agencies from working with Russia.
However, the May package let lawyers continue working with Russia, despite criticism of the role law firms have played in enabling Russian oligarchs, particularly through the use of libel threats.
The new package is set to ban lawyers from providing “transactional legal advisory services” to Russian businesses, but will let law firms continue providing other limited legal services to the country.
Ross Denton, head of international trade at Ashurst, said the “prohibition is likely intended to relate to new M&A and commercial contracts.”
However, Denton warned the new sanctions could “encourage some law firms to start supplying services to Russian persons as the UK will have set out what services are prohibited, thus establishing what services would be legal.
A spokesperson for the Law Society said: “Law firms withdrew from the Russian market at pace following the invasion,” as they warned that it is “important that firms are able to continue to give advice to those looking to divest from the Russian market.”
The sanctions come in response to Putin’s plans to annex 90,000 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory in the eastern and southern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
The annexations will see Russia take control of an area the size of Hungary, covering 15 per cent of Ukraine’s land.
Putin’s announcement followed a series of hastily held referendums in the four regions, that were condemned as illegal by Western powers.
According to Russia’s state news agency, the referendums saw 87 per cent of voters in Kherson, 93 per cent in Zaporizhzhia, 98 per cent in Luhansk, and 99 per cent in Donetsk vote in favour of joining Russia.
However, doubts were cast over the legitimacy of the referendums, following reports voters were intimidated by Russian soldiers into voting in favour of annexation.
“We will never recognise the results of these sham referendums or any annexation of Ukrainian territory,” UK foreign secretary James Cleverly said.