The European Commission on Wednesday proposed seizing frozen Russian assets to punish Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine, exploring legal options with EU partners to compensate Kiev for the damage caused to the country.
Senior officials from the European Union, the United States and other Western countries have been debating for months how to legally confiscate Russian assets abroad — both state and private — frozen in the wake of sanctions.
The problem is that in most EU Member States, the seizure of frozen assets is only legally possible when there is a criminal conviction. In addition, many assets of blacklisted Russian citizens are difficult to seize or even freeze because they are registered as belonging to relatives or front men.
“We have blocked 300 billion euros of the reserves of the Russian Central Bank and frozen 19 billion euros of the money of the Russian oligarchs,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU executive, said in a statement.
He added that in the short term the EU and its partners could manage the funds and invest them. The proceeds would go to Ukraine, ultimately offsetting the damage done to the country.
“We will work on an international agreement with our partners to make this possible. And together, we can find a legal way to do that.”
He also said the EU was proposing the creation of a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, “to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”
Russia claims that freezing its central bank’s reserves and the assets of its citizens is illegal. He denies that the invasion, which he describes as a “special military operation” to disarm his neighbor, amounts to an illegal aggression against Ukraine.