U.K. Moves to Use Frozen Russian Assets to Help Ukraine Rebuild

As Russia’s ruinous attacks on Ukraine mount, Britain’s government is proposing legislation that would enable it to divert frozen Russian assets to the rebuilding of Ukraine and keep sanctions in place until Moscow pays compensation to its war-torn neighbor.

The British announcement is in line with a decision last month at the annual Group of 7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, to freeze the estimated $300 billion worth of Russian assets held by banks and financial institutions in those countries — including Britain — “until Russia pays for the damage it has caused to Ukraine.”

The issue of seized assets is highly contentious. While governments have the power to freeze assets, the European Central Bank has privately warned Brussels that confiscating Russian funds or giving the earned interest on those accounts to Ukraine could undermine confidence in the euro and shake financial stability, according to a report in The Financial Times. Investors might be reluctant to use euros as a reserve currency if they fear their funds could be grabbed.

Ukraine’s reconstruction costs are estimated to top $411 billion, according to the most recent numbers from the World Bank, the European Commission and the United Nations. The ravaged landscape of the eastern city of Bakhmut, which President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine laid out at the G7 meeting, is just one sign of the damage. “You have to understand that there is nothing,” Mr. Zelensky told reporters. “They’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings.”

The bank’s estimate was calculated before the vast devastation unleashed by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine this month.

Calls to seize Russian assets and use them for Ukraine’s reconstruction have increased as the war has stretched well into its second year. Last week, the United States Senate introduced a bipartisan bill to confiscate Russian assets and use them for Ukraine’s reconstruction. And the issue is also expected to come up at a Ukraine Recovery Conference being held in London on Wednesday and Thursday.

Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine early last year, Britain has frozen roughly $23 billion in assets and imposed sanctions on 1,550 individuals. The government’s latest proposal will require people under sanctions to disclose their holdings in Britain.

“Through our new measures today, we’re strengthening the U.K.’s sanctions approach,” James Cleverly, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement on Monday accompanying the announcement, “affirming that the U.K. is prepared to use sanctions to ensure Russia pays to repair the country it has so recklessly attacked.”

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