Thursday

11th Aug 2022

EU makes first use of Magnitsky Act, on Russia

  • EU foreign ministers speaking to US secretary of state Anthony Blinken by video-link on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU has agreed to blacklist Russian officials guilty of wrongly jailing opposition figure Alexei Navalny, amid a new "low" in relations.

The asset-freezes and visa-bans ought to be in force in early March, EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell said after meeting foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (22 February).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

And a draft EU list already named four men - Alexander Bastrykin, Alexander Kalashnikov, Igor Krasnov, and Viktor Zolotov - who run Russia's investigative, prison, prosecution, and national guard services, according to information leaked to the Reuters news agency.

The measures will be the EU's first-ever invocation of its new 'Magnitsky Act' human rights sanctions, named informally after a late Russian dissident.

Navalny's associates wanted the EU to also list Russian oligarchs, whose corruption he exposed and who benefitted from his being silenced.

The Magnitsky Act allows for that, legally speaking.

But Borrell said Europe did not have enough evidence to pin Navalny's "persecution" on any one else for now.

"Maybe we don't like the oligarchs ... but if there isn't a link we can prove in a court of law, we cannot use it [the Magnitsky Act]. I'm sorry, this is also the rule of law", Borrell said.

The new EU sanctions come on top of previous measures over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, chemical-weapons attacks, and cyber attacks.

They also come after Russia humiliated Borrell on his recent trip to Moscow by trash-talking the EU and expelling European diplomats while he was there.

Its behaviour was a "clear symbol [Russia] is not interested in cooperation with the EU, on the contrary, it looks to disengagement and confrontation", Borrell said.

Russia had, "unfortunately", become the EU's "adversary", he added.

Borrell was roasted by European media and politicians for letting himself be made a fool of in Moscow.

But he said that had blown over by now.

It was just 70 or so MEPs out of 750 who had signed a letter calling for his resignation, Borrell said on Monday. "It's less than 10 percent, so let's put things in the right proportion," he said.

The German and Swedish foreign ministers echoed the EU top diplomat.

"Relations [with Russia] are certainly at a low. There's no other word for it," Germany's Heiko Maas said.

"At the same time, we need to talk about how to keep up a constructive dialogue with Russia," he added.

"The EU message to Russia is clear," Sweden's Ann Linde said.

Ministers were "united in support of the EU's Russia policy. Navalny and all others unlawfully detained must be released," she said.

The new US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, joined the EU talks by video-link on Monday.

And he "welcomed the EU's decision to impose sanctions against Russia under the human rights sanctions regime [Magnitsky Act]", the state department said.

There is more division in the West on Russia than Monday's sanctions deal suggested, however.

The US has used sanctions against European firms building a Russia-Germany gas pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, which it says will cause strategic harm.

And the Polish foreign minister, on Monday, published an op-ed in the Politico news agency urging Blinken to get tougher if Germany went ahead.

Poland was also interested in EU sanctions on Russian oligarchs despite Borrell's legal niceties, diplomatic sources said.

But even the Russia-hawkish Baltic EU states were happy with Monday's compromise as a first step.

And Leonid Volkov, a close associate of Navalny's who lives in Lithuania, also saw some good in it.

"Even if it's too little ... it's the first time personal sanctions are applied with regard to human rights violations, so it opens a way for further negotiation on this with Europe," he said.

EU Commission casts doubt on Russian Sputnik vaccine

Hungary is buying up vaccines from Russia and China. But tricky regulatory oversight questions remain as the European Commission sheds doubt on the quality and safety of Sputnik production.

Who are the EU's new Russian deplorables?

Four Russians are about to join an EU list of the world's worst human rights abusers, but who are they and what message does it send to Moscow?

Opinion

Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter

Dr Ming-Yen Tsai, head of the Taipei Representative Office in the EU and Belgium, responds to EUobserver op-ed on Taiwan by the Chinese ambassador to Belgium. "Taiwan is an 'island of resilience'. That will continue to be the case."

Opinion

Supporting Taiwan 'like carrying water in a sieve'

China's ambassador to Belgium, Cao Zhongming, says the US has been distorting, obscuring and hollowing out the 'one-China' principle and unscrupulously undermining China's core interests. This is sheer double standards and a shameful act of bad faith.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us