According to schedule, I did not publish an article last Friday. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t. Whatever the topic, it would have been irrelevant at that point in time.
Friday 25 February 2022, the world watched in horror as an incredibly large old school invasion force descended upon Ukraine. Marking a pivotal moment in world history, not seen since the first of September 1939. Aggressive use of military force is back in style. The “rules-based international order” just took a direct hit. Dreams of world-peace are shattered. I felt shell-chocked.
Despite the horrendous events, over the weekend the first glimmers of hope appeared. The world seemed to become more and more united by the hour. Initially it was governments getting univocal in condemning the war and announcing or increasing sanctions, even if it could hurt their home economies. Soon commercial businesses joined, closing operations in Russia, terminating joint ventures, withdrawing products and product support for their Russian customers. Even Russian performing artists, athletes and sports teams, are now subject to a global boycott.
It is heartwarming to see that, despite our differences, when push comes to shove, we stand united. It is realistically the only way to gain some leverage on the superpower the Russian Federation is.
The Legal Industry
With the Covid scenarios still fresh in memory, the legal industry initially focused on sanctions, the most apparent legal aspect of the Ukraine invasion. Overnight newsletters were compiled and client briefings got organized. During the weekend however, this started to change and my phone started ringing. The last couple of days, since Sunday late afternoon, we have been in constant conversation with some of our clients seeking consultation on what to do with their Russian clients. The fact that we were part of multiple discussions proved to be immensely helpful in quickly establishing ‘best practice’
Let’s face it. Many ‘business law firms’ all over the world are doing business with clients that have direct and indirect ties with Russia. Those clients are not on any sanctions list and every organization or individual has a right to legal representation. Business Law Firms, by nature are a-political and do not take a moral stance. There are also strict bar-regulations preventing a lawyer to just drop a client. But this time it is different and most of us do not want to end up on the wrong side of history.
Based on the conversations we have had with some of our clients, I know that there have been heated discussions within partnerships. Some partners took the strictly legal point of view: it is not against the law to represent Russian clients and they are entitled to a lawyer. Others primarily feared the financial impact, as Russian clients accounted for a substantial part of the firm’s revenue. At the other side of the table were those partners that feared reputational damage if the firm would continue to represent Russian clients. And then there were those who literally said they would quit if their firm would not act. Tough decisions had to be made and there was an immense pressure of time. Law firms must act and choose sides now.
"Most of us do not want to end-up on the wrong side of history"
At the time of writing, without exception, the clients we have advised throughout this process, have decided to terminate all their direct and indirect Russia related business. These are incredibly difficult decisions to make. It is not that the Russian clients are the enemy. In most cases these are longstanding loyal clients. On a personal level this are people we know, like and respect. Unfortunately all this is ultimately irrelevant. On the brink of World War 3, it is our moral duty to stand united. We have no choice but to act and we owe it to our children and our grandchildren. If you still have not made up your mind, I urge you to do so right now.
What happens next?
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future!” (Niels Bohr 1885-1962). I certainly do not have a crystal ball, and I must admit that I did not foresee that we would end up in the mess in which we are right now. With that caveat, I could imagine several scenarios how this all would end. In my mind most of these scenarios do not end well, and the one that does, seems highly unlikely.
I read in an article that Putin used to tell how as a child in Leningrad, he and his friends used to chase rats with sticks and loud noises. At one time a huge rat that they corned against a wall, suddenly attacked Putin fiercely, leaving the young boy injured. Perhaps today Putin is that rat. Now that he has maneuvered himself in this situation, what is his endgame?
Putin does not strike me as the sort of person that handles defeat or losing face well. Even if he manages to win the war he will be an outcast like Kim Jung Un for the rest of his days. Russia will remain isolated behind a new iron curtain. The only favorable way out of this mess does not include Putin. A change of leadership in Russia is probably the only positive scenario from here on. This is unlikely to happen and if it happens it should happen from within Russia.
Standing persistently united as a world in boycotting everything Russian is the most important thing we must do to help trigger such event. On the short term such actions will hurt us in equal amounts as it will the Russian people. I’m afraid this is a hardship that we owe to future generations. Please do not give up nor give in!
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