| GENEVA, April 24
GENEVA, April 24 Russia has told the United
States that its Ukraine-related sanctions on a Russian bank and
Russian citizens are illegal under World Trade Organization
rules and must be scrapped.
Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said last week
that Russia could launch a dispute at the world trade body to
challenge U.S. sanctions.
The latest warning, set out in a confidential document
circulated at the WTO on Wednesday, explained what grounds
Russia would have for doing so and made clear that Moscow
believes it would win a trade dispute if it launched one.
Member countries can claim some exemptions from WTO rules,
however, including on grounds of national security.
Although it would be unusual to rely on those grounds to
deflect a WTO dispute, the United States invoked the national
security argument as a member of the trade body's predecessor
organisation to justify its economic embargo on Cuba.
The United States and European Union have so far imposed
visa bans and asset freezes on a few Russians in protest at
Moscow's annexation last month of Crimea from Ukraine.
But U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was
poised to impose more sanctions on Moscow if it does not act
fast to end an armed stand-off in Ukraine's east, where
pro-Russian separatists are defying Kiev's authority.
The document also fired a warning shot at other countries
that may be thinking of bringing sanctions against Russia.
"The Russian Federation also notes debates among the
political elite of certain WTO Members calling for imposition of
trade restrictive measures in respect of Russian goods and
services, exports to Russia and transfers of payments," it said.
"In response to these debates we call upon all WTO Members
to refrain from being misled by such political motives and
neglecting the WTO Agreement."
The U.S. sanctions, punitive measures by Washington over
Russia's annexation of Crimea, targeted St Petersburg-based Bank
Rossiya and its chairman and largest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk.
Russian bank SMP was also indirectly affected as co-owners
Boris Rotenberg and his older brother Arkady fell under U.S.
sanctions. SMP chief executive Dmitry Kalantyrsky has said that
an estimated 9 billion roubles ($252 million) were withdrawn
after the sanctions were imposed.
Russia's document cited U.S. executive orders on March 6, 17
and 20 and said it had serious concern about their substance and
"The measures provided for in the Executive orders are
incompatible with the obligations of the United States under the
GATS," it said, referring to the WTO's General Agreement on
Trade in Services.
It listed several ways in which the U.S. sanctions broke the
GATS rules, including by barring a Russian bank from
establishing a commercial presence in the United States and
prohibiting its cross-border supply of services and payments.
Although it joined the WTO less than two years ago, Russia
has already become embroiled in trade disputes with the European
Union and Japan, and a flurry of threats and warnings suggest
that more cases could soon follow.
($1 = 35.7037 Russian Roubles)
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Catherine Evans)