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25 Oct, 2022 13:44

Seize, not freeze: EU outlines plans for Russian assets

The bloc’s move is legally tricky, a top official admits
Seize, not freeze: EU outlines plans for Russian assets

The EU seeks to outright confiscate Russian assets rather than just freeze them, but the bloc has yet to lay the legal groundwork for doing so, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.

The official delivered her remarks during a conference devoted to the rebuilding of Ukraine, which was attended by a number of Kiev’s prominent international donors.

“Our aim is not only to freeze, but to seize the assets,” she said, although cautioning that establishing a legal base for such a move is “not trivial.” 

According to von der Leyen, the EU has created a task force that includes various international experts “not only to map out what has been frozen,” but also to see what the legal preconditions would be for seizing Russian assets and using them for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

“The will is there, but legally it is not trivial, there is still a lot of work to reach that goal,” she reiterated, noting that the EU adheres to the rule of law, and therefore this process has to be “legally sound.” 

Responding to von der Leyen’s remarks, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that in reality the EU Commission president wants Russia to “exhaust itself being dragged through courts” while trying to retrieve its funds.

During the conference, von der Leyen stated that the World Bank had estimated the cost of the damage to Ukraine at €350 billion ($345 billion). Once Russia launched its military campaign in Ukraine in late February, a multinational task force froze $30 billion in funds belonging to Russian individuals, as well as $300 billion in assets of Russia’s central bank.

Russia strongly criticized the freezing of the funds, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying that the West had essentially committed theft.

Western officials have repeatedly expressed the desire to confiscate Russian assets to benefit Ukraine. However, in July, during another conference on rebuilding Ukraine, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis opposed such a move, arguing that it would establish a dangerous precedent.

“You have to ensure the citizens are protected against the power of the state. This is what we call liberal democracies,” he said at the time.