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UK prime minister says West ‘must be bolder’ in seizing frozen Russian assets

This image shows UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak exiting No. 10, Downing Street in London on Sept. 6, 2023. (Photo by AP)

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that allied Western countries supporting Ukraine "must be bolder" in seizing frozen Russian assets.

In an op-ed run by The Sunday Times, Sunak called on the Group of Seven (G7) nations to find a “lawful way” to seize more frozen Russian assets and pass the proceeds over to Ukraine's government to aid its forces fighting against Russian troops.

“We must be bolder in hitting the Russian war economy … And we must be bolder in seizing the hundreds of billions of frozen Russian assets,” he insisted.

Allied Western countries began freezing Russian assets shortly after Russia began its special military operation in eastern Ukraine in 2022.

They have gathered about $600 billion in frozen Russian assets and funds; however, efforts to pass the money over to Ukraine have created legal issues, raising concerns over precedent, as well as the future of Ukraine’s economy.

Meanwhile, the Russian government has strongly criticized EU and US plans to seize Russian assets and pass the funds over to Ukraine's military, saying any such illegal actions will be sued in international courts.

"[W]e consider all cases related to blocking, arrest or other withholding of any funds related to state property, private property and mixed property of the Russian Federation abroad to be illegal acts,” Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in September.

Meanwhile, Cornell University sanctions expert Nicholas Mulder told Western media last month that the seizure of frozen Russian assets by Western countries and passing the proceeds to Kiev could do damage to Ukraine.

In late December, the European Union reached a tentative agreement to transfer its portion of the global funds, about $216 billion from the Russian central bank, to help the Kiev government.

Also, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved legislation allowing the Government to freeze Russian assets and allocate the proceeds for Kiev.

The legislation, if signed, would mark the first time the US has seized foreign assets of a country it is not at war with. Lawmakers said the Biden administration is supportive of the bill.

“Generally speaking, we are supportive of having domestic legislative authorities that will give us flexibility as we continue to discuss with partners and allies on how best to cease Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and ensure Russia pays for the damage it has caused,” a Biden administration official told The Hill last month.

“We are also engaged in active conversations with our allies and partners, including the [Group of Seven], to ensure we are all coordinated in making Russia pay,” the official added.

So far, at least $500,000 has been transferred from the US to Ukraine, with a first-of-its-kind transfer taking place last week via Estonia. The US Department of Justice said Estonia is receiving the funds first, because “under current authorities, the facts of this case do not allow for a direct transfer to Ukraine.”

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