First application of sanctions under the European Union’s ‘Magnitsky Act’ on Russia

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Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Konstantinos D. Magliveras

On February 22, 2021, the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union, the organ bringing together the Member States’ Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Development, debated, among other matters, the situation in the Russian Federation. Participants took the view that the country is moving towards becoming an authoritarian State and distances itself from the European values of rule of law, democracy, and human rights.[1] Discussions concerned how relations with Russia could develop within the so-called “five guiding principles,” agreed by EU Foreign Ministers and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in March 2016,[2] and focused on, inter alia, pushing back on Russia’s infringements of international law and human rights.[3] In particular, they agreed to: (a) work on future “restrictive measures” (a term which is euphemism for sanctions) to respond to serious violations of human rights committed by the Russian government and (b) increase support for those defending political and civil freedoms in the county.[4] Without naming anyone in particular, the latter reference primarily concerned Alexei Navalny,[5] a Russian opposition politician and leader of the Russia of the Future party. The EU had already castigated the early February 2021 judgment of a Russian court of justice ordering a custodial sentence against Navalny and had promised “possible further action” against the Russian government.[6] This action, which was adopted for the first time under the new EU’s sanctioning regime targeting specifically human rights abuses worldwide (EU ‘Magnitsky Act’) in late February 2021, is the focus of this article.  

* Professor Magliveras is an Attorney at Law in Athens, Greece and teaches public international law at the University of the Aegean
[1] Note that, through its participation in the Council of Europe and having ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Russia is obliged to uphold, promote and not violate these ideals.
[2] See M. Russell, The EU's Russia policy – Five guiding principles, European Parliamentary Research Service, Briefing, PE 614.698, February 2018, at:
[3] See Council of the European Union, Outcome of the Council Meeting, 3785th Council meeting, Foreign Affairs, Brussels, February 22, 2021, 6295/21, p. 5, at:
[4] Id.
[5] See Background Brief, Brussels, February 19, 2021, Foreign Affairs Council February 22, 2021, p. 2, at: