Poland and the Baltic states have urged the EU to work on seizing frozen Russian state assets for the reconstruction of Ukraine “as soon as possible”, pushing for action on a legally weighty issue.
Ahead of a two-day EU summit to discuss the Russian invasion, leaders of PolandLatvia, Lithuania and Estonia said that “to be credible on this issue vis-à-vis Ukraine”, the bloc must go beyond reiterating previous commitments and “accelerate our work within of the Council at this time”.
The quartet of countries, Ukraine’s most vocal allies in the EU, want Western governments to use the Russian central bank’s 300bn euro (£266bn) frozen reserves to help people displaced inside Ukraine and begin to rebuild the country.
“These frozen assets must be used as soon as possible. We cannot wait until the war is over and a peace agreement is signed,” the four wrote in a joint letter to European leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. Sweden currently holds the rotating presidency and is responsible for setting the agendas of the EU Council of Ministers.
Last November, the European Commission suggested create a structure to manage the 300 billion euros of frozen assets of the Russian Central Bank and the 19 billion euros of Russian oligarchs’ money under EU sanctions. Officials said only the proceeds could go to Ukraine, amid uncertainty over the legality of the seizure of the funds.
Poland and the Baltic states go further, arguing that “all assets must be used to cover the costs of Russian aggression against Ukraine”.
However, many jurists have argued that seizing Russian assets would be illegal under international law, undermine the rules-based order.
Other reviewers called the idea “seductive” but also “unnecessary and reckless”. In a article for the Brussels think tank Bruegel last May, Nicolas Véron and Joshua Kirschenbaum wrote: “The reserves of the Bank of Russia are public money and therefore quite different from, although sometimes confused with, the frozen assets of the Russians sanctioned. Bank of Russia funds acquired by the Russian state “in principle on behalf of the Russian people, generally cannot be considered illegitimate”, they wrote.
The idea is likely to be raised at Thursday’s EU summit at which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will take part in what would be his first visit to Brussels since the Russian invasion.
Zelenskiy’s trip to Brussels has been the subject of internal EU controversy recriminations after details leaked, asking security questions.
The Ukrainian leader traveled to London on Wednesdaywhere he met King Charles III and addressed the deputies in parliament. The surprise visit – which was not disclosed in advance – will raise expectations that he will visit Brussels on Thursday. An unpublished agenda note shows that the European Parliament decided on Tuesday to hold a last-minute plenary session this Thursday, suggesting Zelenskiy could address MEPs.
At the summit, EU leaders are expected to endorse Zelenskiy’s 10-point peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of all Russian troops, the restoration of Ukraine’s borders and a special tribunal for the prosecution of Russian war crimes.
On Thursday, EU leaders are also expected to voice support for a “peace formula summit, aimed at launching [the peace’s plan’s] implementation”, according to the draft conclusions of the summit. The document also notes: “Russia has shown no genuine will for a just and lasting peace.”