(Adds details, comment from U.S. ambassador to WTO)
By Tom Miles
GENEVA, July 24 The latest U.S. sanctions
against Russia violate World Trade Organization rules and may
force Moscow into a destabilising trade dispute, Russia's
ambassador told the Geneva-based trade body on Thursday.
"It looks like we are being forced to seek the protection of
our legitimate rights and interests through the WTO mechanisms,"
said Russian Ambassador Gennady Ovechko, adding that Russia was
also concerned by sanctions imposed by other WTO members.
In response to the conflict in Ukraine, the United States
has for several months been leveled sanctions on Russian
individuals and smaller companies. But on July 16, Washington
also hit Russia's largest oil producer, Rosneft ; its
second largest gas producer, Novatek ; and its third
largest bank, Gazprombank. All three companies are
run by Putin allies who have become wealthy during his tenure.
Canada said on Thursday that it would sanction a range of
Russian firms including Gazprombank and Novatek.
The European Union is also considering further sanctions
after the downing of a Malaysian airliner in an area of eastern
Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatist rebels.
Russia deeply regretted the U.S.' latest step, Ovechko said.
"We consider all these destructive actions by the U.S. as
interference with business operations of the companies which the
U.S. authorities are trying to situate in the political context,
which they neither belong to nor are in any way part of," he
In response, U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke said
the United States took its WTO obligations very seriously and it
had carefully considered whether the latest sanctions were in
line with WTO rules before announcing them on July 16.
"We remain confident that all of these actions are
consistent with our WTO obligations," Punke said in an emailed
Countries enforcing trade sanctions do not have to justify
them at the WTO unless they are challenged in a trade dispute.
Justifications for restricting trade can range from
environmental and health reasons to religious scruples.
But some diplomats fear that wide-ranging sanctions against
Russia could only be explained by national security concerns.
That would be a legitimate argument, but one that has never been
invoked in a WTO dispute and could unravel mutual trust.
"Thus, the U.S. actions might cause the unfortunate chain of
events that would ultimately undermine the credibility of the
multilateral trading system," Ovechko said.
Ovechko's comments at a meeting of the WTO's General Council
were supported by Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina,
Bolivia, Zimbabwe and Ecuador.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams, Larry
King, G Crosse)