Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (which Russia’s Justice Ministry has designated as a “foreign agent”), is trying to put a positive spin on the European Union’s decision not to sanction prominent businessmen Navalny’s associates say are partly responsible for the opposition politician’s imprisonment. Though his team advocates these sanctions, Zhdanov told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that targeting Russian oligarchs is largely impractical because their immense personal resources and access to elite lawyers enable them to challenge and reverse such measures.
“So things here are getting harder, of course, but I don’t see this as some major failure because the main thing is that those who violate the rights of Russian citizens — whatever judges, prosecutors, [Investigative Committee head Alexander] Bastrykin, and [Attorney General Igor] Krasnov are certainly included on this list. Also, this is just the first step,” said Zhdanov, referring to reports on February 22 that European Union foreign ministers agreed to impose sanctions on four senior Russian officials (Bastrykin, Krasnov, Federal Penitentiary Service Director Alexander Kalashnikov, and National Guard Director Viktor Zolotov) in response to Navalny’s imprisonment.
Also on Monday, EU Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell confirmed that Europe is not prepared to levy sanctions against Russian oligarchs (who happen to be a frequent target of Navalny’s anti-corruption investigations). “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 [sanctions],” Borrell told reporters.
After Russian police arrested Alexey Navalny in Moscow in mid-January 2021, the opposition politician’s longtime associate Vladimir Ashurkov named eight individuals Navalny himself wants to see sanctioned in the West. The list included the billionaires Alisher Usmanov and Roman Abramovich, as well as the bankers Igor Shuvalov and Andrey Kostin.
In early February, in response to Ashurkov’s proposed sanctions list, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin urged his colleagues to adopt amendments that would make it a felony to advocate foreign sanctions against Russian citizens. Lawmakers passed the first reading of this legislation in May 2018, but the draft law has since languished in consultations with Russia’s business community.