Russian billionaires and businessmen Mikhail Fridman (L) and Pyotr Aven (R) can be happy that the European Commission was sloppy, critics say. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)


ECJ rules in favour of Russian oligarchs and removes EU sanctions


The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that the European Union has to remove Russian oligarchs Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven from the EU sanction list.

The ECJ, the highest European court, ruled that justification for the sanctions was not sufficient, thus deciding in favour of the mens’ removal from a list of individuals subject to restrictive measures between February 2022 and March 2023.

Fridman and Aven were alleged to have been closely connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin and court papers appeared to confirm that. They are prominent players in Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest non-state lender.

The two men were almost immediately placed on the EU sanctions list when Russia invaded Ukraine.

According to the EU, they have helped Russia in the war in Ukraine by providing financial and other support to Putin’s regime.

As a result, they were no longer allowed to enter the EU and could not access their assets within the bloc.

But the ECJ did not agree with that move and said, despite the “proximity” between the men and Putin, the European Council was unable to clearly demonstrate that they supported actions against Ukraine, provided support to Russian decision-makers or benefited from those decision-makers.

Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – who died in a Russian prison in February this year – lambasted the European legal institutions involved, in a lengthy post on X, claiming their poor approach was the reason the court sided with the two men.

“So, what do we see? That the so-called evidence … consisted of several references to old media publications, the most relevant of which is an article in The Daily Beast from 2018. What a load of bollocks, of course,” Volkov wrote.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov applauded the ECJ ruling.

“Representatives of big business have the opportunity to challenge these sanctions decisions … and they are doing that,” Peskov said. “In any case, we consider all these sanctions illegal, unfair and destructive.”

Fridman, who is among Russia’s wealthiest tycoons, is a co-founder of the Alfa Group and a prominent figure in Russia.

Alfa Bank, the group’s flagship entity, itself faced EU sanctions in March 2022. In response, Fridman decided to step down from the board in an effort to assist the lender in navigating the sanctions.

Aven, who served as head of Alfa Bank until March 2022, followed suit in resigning from the board following the EU’s actions.

The EU can appeal against the ECJ decision.

It is not the first time EU sanctions have been revoked. The mother of the late chief of the Wagner Group of mercenaries, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Russian Formula One driver Nikita Mazepin have had sanctions against them overturned by European courts.

The sanctions list includes hundreds of Russian nationals, many of whom have declared their intention to take their cases to the Luxembourg-based ECJ.