In the years leading up to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, American lobbyists scooped millions of dollars from Russian banks and financial firms to advance their interests in Washington.
Now, in the wake of the Russian invasion and new sanctions announced by President Joe Biden, many of those lobbyists are rushing to cut ties and cancel their lucrative contracts.
At least six lobbyists that previously represented Russian banks and companies linked to a Russian natural gas pipeline, which are currently under sanctions, terminated their contracts or representation this week, according to data and federal lobbyist disclosures.
Experts said the exodus represented the rupture of a channel from Moscow to Key Street, which has long employed former federal officials and members of Congress from both parties.
“For anyone who is a Russian entity in Washington, D.C., this is an uphill climb … it just got steeper,” said Benjamin Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Government, a foreign policy think tank. Who wrote a book on foreign influence. It would be hard to find a sympathetic ear for any of these Russian agents in Hill at the moment.
Some of the banks that Biden has targeted with sanctions, including VTB, Russia’s second largest, have been placed under “complete embargo” sanctions, which have frozen the assets of US organizations and prevented them from doing business in the country. That means it would be illegal for lobbyists to work for them unless they obtain a license from the Treasury, according to legal experts.
Eric Ferrari, a lawyer who specializes in US economic sanctions, said dropping contracts with completely banned banks “is not a gesture of solidarity with Ukraine, this is a requirement under US law.” He said the lobbyists could face prosecution for violating penal laws.
Describing relations with Russia as a “scarlet letter” in the capital, Freeman said that even for lobbyists representing companies that are not fully proscribed, it would be “a real risk to the reputation of these companies to continue to represent these sanctioned entities.”
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