The European Union’s international relations are organized into a series of practices that regulate its relationships with the third states, including with Russia. The primary practice is that of ‘criticizing’ the human rights record of Russia, and this represents a major part of the EU’s engagement with Russia. This article analyses the practice of EU criticism of Russia regarding its implementation of human rights norms and values as a case which helps define the role of human rights in EU-Russia relations. It proposes that the EU’s transformative power over Russia has been minimal. It further argues that the success of the practice of criticizing human rights records has been limited to the institutionalization of EU-Russia cooperation in this area.