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.
Yet, even for the most seasoned western lawyers who went through the Russian sovereign debt default of 1998, the events of 2014 are proving an altogether different experience. While previous Russian misdemeanours were largely tolerated – be it the Russo-Georgian war of 2008 or the politically motivated imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003 and the subsequent dissolution of Yukos – it has been impossible for the West to ignore Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the subsequent war and support of separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, and the inevitable ratcheting up of economic sanctions from the US, EU and other western states, has led to a situation so intractable that few can see an obvious way out.