It is imperative to respond positively to Ukraine’s request.
In light of the escalation of the abuses committed by the Russian army in the theatre of operations in Ukraine, the scale of the humanitarian crisis requires the international community to considerably strengthen the sanctions taken against the aggressor.
The discussions concerning the embargo on the purchase of hydrocarbons by the European Union have stalled for lack of unanimity. It is urgent to respond to Ukraine’s request by other means and to take sanctions capable, if not of hindering military operations in the short term, at least of offering a perspective that strengthens the hopes and the spirit of resistance of the martyred nation.
The efforts being made on the ground, whether by the Ukrainian authorities or the competent international bodies, to bring the illegal actions committed to justice, constitute an unprecedented and vitally important development at this early stage of the conflict, even if it is agreed that their outcome is uncertain and will, in the best case, be delayed for many years.
There is, however, one measure that can be launched and followed by more immediate effects. Ukraine can apply to the competent authorities (international or national) for the “seizure” of Russian reserves (in $, €, £, Yen, Swiss Francs, Canadian, Australian and Singapore dollars) frozen at the time of the outbreak of the conflict. A case demanding compensation for material damage already suffered can be compiled quickly and indisputably.
Ukraine could thus ensure that all assets of the aggressor that fall within the orbit of the competent jurisdictions will be considered as contributions to the reconstruction of the country. The amount of frozen Russian reserves amounts to more than $400 billion, which will alleviate the efforts pledged by Western democracies in the colossal effort that will be required.
Procedures to secure provisional measures such as those proposed are much easier and quicker to implement than trials for war crimes or crimes against humanity, as they do not involve the guilt of human beings whose trial is – fortunately – subject to lengthy procedures and safeguards that require the provision of substantiated evidence of guilt, which is often difficult to obtain in the context of armed conflict.
The political significance of the suggested measures and the risks they entail, particularly in the emergence of case law in this area, should not be underestimated. However, the countries concerned are only countries where the rule of law and the separation of executive and judicial powers prevail. While problems of jurisdiction may arise, there is no reason why Ukraine should not refer the matter to the relevant judicial authorities. This in itself is likely to put considerable pressure on Russia to stop its aggression and thus to respond in a concrete way to the Ukrainian request for a deepening of sanctions.
Brussels, 9 April 2022