First-Ever Use of EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime: EU Imposes Sanctions Against Russian Officials over the Arrest of Alexei Navalny

On 22 February 2021, the EU’s foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions against the Russian individuals accused by the EU of being responsible for the recent arrest, sentencing and persecution of the Russian opposition politician Mr Alexei Navalny.

The restrictions imposed on the officials concerned consist of an asset freeze and a prohibition to enter any EU Member State, and will become effective once the related EU legal acts will be adopted and published in the EU Official Journal.

The final list of the individuals subject to these new sanctions has not yet been publicly announced, but according to media reports it includes four high-ranking Russian officials.

The planned measures are currently undergoing the administrative process under the proposal of the High Representative, and are expected to be formally adopted by the EU Council via the so-called written procedure within one week.

The new sanctions will be imposed under the new EU’s Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime established by Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/1999 of 7 December 2020 concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses and Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998 of 7 December 2020 concerning restrictive measures against serious human rights violations and abuses. It enables the EU to target individuals, entities and bodies – including both state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, independent of where they occurred.

While from the international business perspective the economic and commercial effect of the sanctions imposed on these Russian officials is expected to be rather symbolic, the step of imposing these sanctions in itself is very significant, as this is the first time ever that the EU is making use of the European Union Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

This sanctions regime is therefore not aimed at targeting any third country as a whole, but individuals involved in rogue activities. However, as in the case discussed above, the designation of individuals does send a strong political signal to and is likely to increase political tensions with the country concerned. It remains to be seen how frequently and how broadly the EU be will be willing to use the Human Rights Sanctions Regime against individuals from third countries, but following this first case, it is likely that we will see more sanctions designations under this instrument in the future.