The Russia report: A new thaw?

Diving commodity prices and currency devaluation have put Russia and the CIS on ice, but Asian investment and economic sovereignty are reheating the legal market

If the mood of a city can be gauged by the bustle of its shops and restaurants, then law firms active in Russia and much of the wider CIS region should not be especially fearful. Björn Paulsen, co-head of German firm Noerr’s Moscow office, says despite the recent devaluation of the rouble coming amid prolonged economic turbulence, few tables are empty in the Russian capital’s top eateries. ‘The crisis has already reached the bottom and now the market is on the rise again,’ he says.

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Aboard the propaganda train – sweat and spin amid a turbulent Russian market

Despite sanctions, a currency collapse and falling oil prices, Russia’s lawyers are doing better than expected. For now.

There’s an old Russian joke about a foreigner who visits the Soviet Union. Knowing his letters will be read by the state censor, he devises a system to communicate with friends back home. If his letter is written in black ink, the message is true. If it is written in red ink, the message is false. Eventually his friends receive a letter from Russia written in black ink: ‘Dear friends, I hope this letter reaches you. Contrary to the lies in our press, life in the Soviet Union is wonderful. Food is plentiful, apartments are spacious and well heated, and there are no shortages. In fact, the only thing I can’t find here is red ink.’

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Chasing the bear – Sanctions bite on Russia’s legal market

As US and EU-led sanctions take their toll on Russia, Legal Business speaks to the country’s leading lawyers to discover whether any opportunities can be salvaged from the crisis.

Russia-based lawyers are a hardy bunch, conditioned to working in a volatile market where ups turn into downs on an almost annual basis. No matter how good things might appear, they are well aware that some form of political interference or economic disaster might be lurking around the cor­­ner. Most get by on the knowledge that Russia’s lucrative market is remarkably robust and that in the long term it always seems to bounce back.

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Straining the bonds – why disputes counsel is high on the agenda in Russia

Few sanctions-related disputes have hit the courts yet, but contentious and non-contentious advice is top of the agenda for international advisers in Russia.

While their transactional colleagues in Moscow are suffering, the current sanctions on Russia have been a boon to trade and sanctions lawyers, who are fielding countless enquiries from Russian and international clients. The fact that the sanctions are so multi-layered, leaving plenty of scope for interpretation, has increased the demand, particularly when it comes to deciding what constitutes a controlling stake in a company, something that was relevant to the designated Russian individuals who were named in the first few rounds of sanctions and who owned stakes in many different companies. This uncertainty has, in many respects, been more damaging to Russian business than the sanctions themselves, something that the US authorities were fully aware of when they rolled them out.

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A question of confidence – Russians strive to keep high stakes disputes at home

Domestic court reforms have improved the legal infrastructure within Russia and the CIS. Legal Business assesses their impact on a disputes market where the biggest cases continue to go abroad

Given that domestic litigators in Russia and the CIS regularly see their clients’ largest commercial disputes go abroad, usually to be resolved under English law, they treat the outflow of work with unexpectedly good grace. This is mostly based on the realisation that this exodus of high-value litigation not only reflects what clients want, but also what they need. But what’s best for clients isn’t always best for advisers’ bottom lines.

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After the gold rush – has the age of the oligarch dispute passed?

A year since the headline-busting oligarch disputes between Berezovsky and Abramovich and Cherney and Deripaska ended, Legal Business finds that the London market for Russian and CIS-related disputes remains in rude health

Boris Berezovsky v Roman Abramovich; Michael Cherney v Oleg Deripaska – these were the two headlining title bouts that for a brief and glorious moment took the often prosaic world of shareholder disputes out of the business sections and on to the front page of almost every national newspaper.

They involved a cast of colourful litigants with a seemingly bottomless pit of money and grudges, whose lawyers, particularly the barristers, were turned into media stars, if only for a while. The costs were huge and the outcomes of both cases well documented.

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Russia: pipelines east

Russia’s energy and natural resources sector is a rare bright spot in an otherwise bleak economy. With the government looking to attract even greater investment from Asia, LB assesses the market’s prospects

The Russian legal market can be an unpredictable beast. A history of interfering politicians, corruption and debt crises, both internal and external, have meant that since the collapse of the Soviet Union, law firms in Moscow have struggled to maintain a steady grasp on just what might be around the corner. Despite all the variables, however, there is one constant, and that is the energy and natural resources sector, which dominates Russia’s foreign exports – in 2011 oil and gas revenues accounted for 10.4% of Russia’s GDP (up from 7.6% in 2009). Provided that commodity prices don’t drop for a sustained period of time – particularly crude oil, which has been strong since going above $50 a barrel in 2005 – a decent volume of work can be assured. 

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Russia: Shades of grey

Despite an encouraging start to 2011, the Russian corporate market is currently locked in a holding pattern caused by the eurozone crisis. LB speaks to the dealmakers waiting for the action to return.

Russian business and politics can rarely be described as boring. Each year throws up its share of dramas, and 2011 is no exception to the rule. From prime minister Vladimir Putin’s recent, and not entirely unexpected, self-anointment as Russia’s next president, through to Rosneft’s doomed oil exploration joint venture with UK oil major BP and its subsequent rebound into ExxonMobil’s welcoming arms. These events, and more, have shown that Russia hasn’t lost its flare for political and economic intrigue and infighting. Nevertheless, compared to the problems faced by some of its neighbours in the CIS and Western Europe, Russia has come through the year with a veneer of respectability and stability. Any knocks it has taken have come from external sources.

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Russia: Space Invaders

Global law firms have traditionally dominated the corporate market in Russia and the CIS. LB assesses the chances of those domestic firms taking on the internationals at their own game.

Dimitry Afanasiev, chairman of the Russian law firm Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev & Partners (EPA&P), is fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead. On 19 July, EPA&P announced that it was to take over the Ukrainian firm Magisters, creating a pan-CIS firm with over 300 lawyers and, as reported in the legal press, a combined turnover of €115m. In doing so, the firm has planted a serious flag in a market that has always been dominated by major internationals.

‘It isn’t an easy move,’ says Vassily Rudomino, senior partner at rival Russian firm ALRUD. ‘Both firms might get certain benefits from this merger but it is a big challenge. I really admire the courage they have taken to do it.’

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Litigators of Russia – unite!

The Russian commercial justice system has suffered from image problems in the past, but recent court reforms and a boom in litigation look set to challenge this. LB investigates the impact on the domestic litigation market

In 2005, when Anton Ivanov was appointed chairman of Russia’s Supreme Court of Arbitration, the country’s highest commercial court, the domestic judicial system was blighted by accusations of political interference and corruption. It is fair to say that, for those seeking greater judicial independence within Russia and a broom to sweep away the court system’s perceived problems, Ivanov’s appointment wasn’t immediately seen as a great herald for change. For anyone hoping for an outsider, his arrival was an immense disappointment. Continue reading “Litigators of Russia – unite!”