EU Court Reverses EU Sanctions on Two Russian Businessmen

Published: 12 April 2024

New Cropped Aven FridmanThe EU Court of Justice annulled sanctions against Petr Aven (L) and Mikhai Fridman (R). (Photo/cropped/: LetterOne Group, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union annulled on Wednesday the inclusion of Russian businessman Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman on the lists of persons subject to the EU restrictive measures introduced following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The General Court upholds the requests of Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman and annuls both the initial acts and the acts maintaining the lists of restrictive measures for the period from 28 February 2022 to 15 March 2023,” the court said in a press release.

The court justified its decision saying that “none of the reasons set out in the initial acts is sufficiently substantiated,” and that the inclusion of Aven and Fridman on the lists at issue was therefore “not justified.”

However, they are still ensnared by EU sanctions as the punitive measures against them were extended, first in March 2023 and again last month, through separate decisions.

Aven and Fridman are considered to be among the close associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Aven, ranked among the 50 wealthiest Russians, held the position of Russia’s minister of foreign economic relations in the 1990s. Subsequently, he assumed the role of president at Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, in 1994.

The EU Council described Fridman, the founder and a key shareholder of the conglomerate Alfa Group, which encompasses Alfa Bank, as “a top Russian financier and enabler of Putin’s inner circle.”

However, the EU Court deems that “although the grounds put forward by the Council may be such as to establish, as the case may be, a degree of proximity between Petr Aven and Mikhail Fridman and Vladimir Putin or his entourage, they do not demonstrate that they have supported actions or policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, or that they have provided material or financial support to the Russian decision-makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilization of Ukraine, or that they have benefited from those decision-makers.”

The EU imposed sanctions against both individuals, involving the freezing of their assets, at the outset of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Additionally, the U.S. and U.K. also introduced sanctions against Aven and Fridman.

Fridman, 59, holds citizenships of Russia and Israel, whereas Aven, 69, is a citizen of Russia and Latvia.

“What’s changed since you sanctioned Russian oligarchs?” queried Yulia Navalnaya, widow of the late Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, addressing EU politicians and condemning the EU court’s ruling on her X platform.

She emphasized that neither Fridman nor Aven have taken a stand against the conflict in Ukraine or made any visible efforts to halt it — “they’ve simply hired expensive lawyers and influential lobbyists.”

“Anti-war Russians in Europe face numerous challenges, but for Russian oligarchs, money easily resolves everything,” she concluded.

Ivan Zdhanov, the leader of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation also criticized the EU court’s decision, describing the removal of sanctions from Fridman and Aven as a theatrical spectacle and a significant setback for European sanctions policy.