EU’s Asset Freeze of Russian Weapons Maker Upheld

(CN) – The European General Court on Wednesday upheld an asset freeze on a Russian manufacturer of surface-to-air missiles in light of its weapons ending up in the hands of pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

In response to the crisis in Ukraine, the EU Council adopted measures in 2014 that froze the assets of companies and individuals whose activities threatened the sovereignty and stability of Ukraine. Among those blacklisted is Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense, a state-owned weapons manufacturer in Russia.

The council found that since Almaz-Antey is owned by the Russian government and supplies the Russian army with antiaircraft weapons – which the Russian army in turn gave to separatists to take down the Ukrainian government – an asset freeze was warranted. The council has since renewed the freeze for 2015 and 2016.

Almaz-Antey did not appeal its blacklisting for 2014, but asked the European General Court to annul the council’s decision for the subsequent years. The company argued the extension was disproportionate since it did not make the decision to send the weapons it manufactured to the separatists.

In a 13-page ruling issued Wednesday, the EU’s general court rejected the company’s arguments – noting the company, as a state-owned entity, materially supports the separatists’ actions in Ukraine whether it likes it or not.

“By manufacturing weapons and military equipment and supplying them to the Russian state, which itself supplies weapons to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine, Almaz-Antey materially supports actions which undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote.

The court also noted the company manufactured the BUK missile that likely took down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014, killing all 298 on board, although that act did not factor in the council’s decision to blacklist Almaz-Antey.

Finally, the court said the council has no obligation to prove the company’s weapons have been used by separatists. Such proof would be hard to come by particularly in a conflict situation, and EU law requires only the risk that an entity may act “reprehensibly” in imposing restrictive measures.

Almaz-Antey has 60 days to appeal the court’s decision to the European Court of Justice.