Better together? Ukraine and Russia’s contrasting trade alliances

Ukraine Photo Ivan BanduraHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

After months that have seen widespread demonstrations, bloodshed, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, snap elections and ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, it is easy to forget that it was the decision by former President Viktor Yanukovych to pull out of a much-anticipated trade pact with the European Union that sparked the protests in the first place.

Wind on nine months and the EU has signed an association agreement with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Russia has also forged ahead with expanding its own trade relationships and signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) with Belarus and Kazakhstan. As the fallout from the tragic downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July continues and relations across the EU and beyond become increasingly strained, the question remains: is it always better, together?

Lourdes Catrain, Vice-Chair of the IBA International Trade and Customs Law Committee and director of Hogan Lovells’ European international trade and investment group, believes the June association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is a significant step for European trade relations. ‘It’s important to remember that it was the proposed Ukrainian association agreement with the EU that triggered the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and which shows that Ukraine has made a strong bet for the EU,’ she says.

‘The association agreement with the EU shows that at least, a very large part of the population in Ukraine is prepared to follow the EU. Given the size of Ukraine that’s an important message. [Although] Georgia and Moldova have much smaller economies, it’s significant that the three of them have joined what could become a very deep association with the EU.’

Published on 04-08-14. Read on here

Five key takeaways on Russia’s relations with the West

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

After months of fraught relations between Russia and the West which have seen a flurry of tit-for-tat sanctions triggered by the growing unrest in Ukraine, the final straw seemed to come with the suspected downing on 17 July of flight MH17 over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.

Under growing international pressure to act, on 29 July the EU finally confirmed it was imposing ‘stage three’ sanctions against Russia. Here are the five key takeaways on Russian relations with the West in recent weeks:

1. Press reaction to MH17 disaster – differing views

Many of the European, American and Asian newspapers led with the story:

Guardian front pageAlthough as UK broadsheet The Guardian was quick to point out, many Russian newspapers relegated news of the accident to the bottom of the page:

Rossiskaya GazetaAlthough pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid Tvoi Den did lead with a more dramatic image, the caption told a startlingly different story: Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by a Ukrainian Buk Missile:

Tvoi Den front pageReflecting the shockwaves felt across the Netherlands, which suffered the most losses, Dutch daily nrc•next was noticeably more reserved: Last night in eastern Ukraine, a plane crashed. On board were 300 people, 154 of them were Dutch:

nrc.nextPublished on 01-08-14. Read on here

Venezuela: protests heighten concern over rule of law

Venezuela_protests_against_the_Nicolas_Maduro_government,_Maracaibo_03Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

As the situation in Ukraine grows increasingly complex by the day and draws the world’s attention, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic,Venezuela endures the worst protests it has seen in more than a decade.

What started as a mere isolated, student-led protest in early February has evolved into a widespread demonstration of discontent, highlighting the government’s failure to provide adequate security measures, basic food supplies and its mishandling of the country’s finances. The protests have drawn comparisons with the unrest that ravaged the country in 2002 and are the most serious challenge yet to the government of Nicolás Maduro, who was elected president in April last year following the death of Hugo Chávez of cancer, after 14 years in office.

Although similar to earlier demonstrations, former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas, says the scale of these protests has taken the country and the government by surprise. ‘We have not seen governmental repression quite like this in recent years: based on different reports, in 17 days of protests there have been 18 deaths and 1,044 arrests,’ he says.

Published on 05-03-14. Read on here

Human Rights Commissioner slams Magnitsky trial as Europe continues to moot law

Sergei_Magnitsky_(grave)Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks has condemned the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, just four months after a Russian court found the deceased lawyer and his former boss, Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder, guilty of tax evasion in the country’s first modern-day posthumous trial.

In the report published last week, Muižnieks highlights a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which states that posthumous trials violate Article 6 – the right to a fair trial – since the deceased is not able to testify at his trial.

He added that the trial’s proceedings are also contrary to a July 2011 ruling by Russia’s Constitutional Court, which stated that prosecutors cannot continue to prosecute people after their death. Instead, he adds the ruling said that ‘…posthumous trials are only allowed with a view to rehabilitating a person who was accused or convicted of a particular crime at the request of his family.’

The damning report comes just weeks after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee approved a report calling for the Russian authorities to put an end to the posthumous trial once and for all.

Published on 18-11-13. Read on here

Russia: Reforming or unravelling?

This is my latest feature piece for IBA Global Insight:MoscowWhen Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 22 August 2012, after an 18-year-long hard-fought slog, there were many left wondering if the wait had been worth it – and whether membership would bring any significant change. In a year that saw Vladimir Putin embark upon his third term as the country’s president, it’s unsurprising that few things have changed since last ­­August. Changes that have been implemented appear largely at odds with the new era of transparency promised by WTO membership, instead suggesting some worrying consequences for the rule of law.

One of the most striking incidents to bring Russia’s rule of law into focus in recent years has been the highly publicised case of Moscow-based lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in pre-trial custody in November 2009. While it’s just one incident, Magnitsky’s plight continues to dominate the headlines worldwide and is a stark reminder of Russia’s track record for human rights violations.

Published on 14-06-13. Read on here