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Russian Opposition Leader, Alexei Navalny returned to Russia in January 2021, after recovering from Novichok poisoning. He was immediately arrested and imprisoned over a conviction that the European Court of Human Rights had previously declared violated his human rights. That brought thousands of Russians onto the streets, in some of the biggest demonstrations against the Government. At least a thousand were arrested.

The demonstrations were widely ascribed to growing discontent with the Government over corruption and declining living standards,. The events have propelled Navalny to a new level of prominence and shown the Government increasingly resorting to repression.

EU criticisms of Navalny’s treatment caused relations between the EU and Russia to nosedive, with the Kremlin announcing the expulsion of European diplomats, a move seen as a calculated humiliation. The EU remains divided, however, over how to respond. Some countries would like to see the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany cancelled, but Germany argues against mixing business and politics.

The Council of Europe, the body that oversees human rights in Europe and of which Russia is a member, has also condemned Navalny’s treatment. The UK has used the fact that it is chairing the G7 and the UN Security Council to encourage a strong international reaction.

Short of cancelling the Nord Stream 2 or imposing other large-scale economic sanctions, sanctions targeted against individuals for corruption and human rights abuses are the most likely international reaction. The US, the UK and the EU all have legal frameworks specially designed for this kind of sanction – often known as Magnitsky sanctions, after the Russian auditor who died in a Russian jail after uncovering massive fraud.

Sanctions over Navalny will be an early test of transatlantic and cross-Channel collaboration after the US presidential transition and Brexit.

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