Artem Ripenko: «I want to believe the issue of Russian state assets confiscation is going to get off the ground soon»

In 2023, the NGO "Progresylni" launched a media campaign #russiamustpay. For your attention, an interview of our colleague and expert Artem Ripenko about the latest actions and decisions regarding Russian assets
Kostiantyn Palshkov
Deputy Coordinator of the Communication Direction
1. Good day, Artem! Since our last interview, we know you have continued your research and public activity on confiscating Russian assets. It's time for new questions.

Hello, I'll be happy to answer!
2. What significant events can you highlight regarding Russian assets this winter?

In terms of state-owned Russian assets, there aren't many "events," but significant developments. The US and G7 are seriously discussing the legality of confiscating so-called "sovereign assets," to be discussed in the G7 format in February. Leading international lawyers have elaborated on legal grounds for confiscation. The Biden administration has supported the idea. The US Congress is also progressing with The REPO Act, defining procedural details for confiscating Russian state assets in the US.

In international law, a doctrine of countermeasures is adapted to this situation. Any state can take measures to induce an aggressor state to cease aggression and pay reparations, up to confiscation and transfer of assets. Russia is ignoring its international legal obligations, and action is required. Confiscating Russian state assets in the US will set a precedent for the EU, especially Germany, France, Italy, and the UK. It will signal tectonic shifts in international law against norms favoring the false "sanctity" of the property of an aggressor state.

In my view, collective self-defense is a less controversial legal basis for confiscating Russian state assets and assisting Ukraine in repelling the enemy. In the case of an armed attack on a sovereign state, any state can support the state under attack, either entering armed conflict or standing aside from belligerency, providing weapons, finances, etc. Confiscating the aggressor's assets can also be a measure of collective self-defense. However, Western states refrain from calling their actions "collective self-defense." That is why the doctrine of "countermeasures" is currently on the table. Regardless of the doctrine, Russian state assets should be confiscated and transferred to aid Ukraine and pay off reparations.
3. Did I understand correctly that the expert legal environment approves confiscation, and currently, the case involves politicians?

Yes. However, the opposition is strong too, even among Western lawyers, let alone those initially supporting the aggression. The EU is cautious with decisive actions, highlighting some international lawyers' considerations. The EU Central Bank openly states that confiscating Russian assets threatens the Euro as a reserve currency. Finance experts argue it's an exaggeration, asserting that the stability of the Dollar and Euro as reserve currencies is not at risk. Furthermore, maintaining state funds in stable Western currencies does require avoiding aggression against sovereign states and violations of peremptory norms of international law. Isn't that logic?

Last week, the EU was supposed to finally approve plans to use profits (not the principal) from frozen Russian state assets to aid Ukraine. Despite loud statements from EU officials, almost two years have passed with no significant progress. Only that Monday, the EU officials agreed to set aside profits from frozen Russian assets. The idea is that the EU states should vote in favor of sending these assets to the EU budget after that. How the money will reach Ukraine or the victims is yet to be established.

Meanwhile, confiscating assets from Russian oligarchs moves slowly in Ukrainian courts, proving the procedure is challenging as assets are hidden. During sanctions and court proceedings, businesses often go bankrupt, accumulating debt to shell companies. Hence, the assets become unattractive at the outcome. The activities of law enforcement bodies, initiating thousands of criminal cases that lead to dead ends, are a separate topic.

In the West, there's a certain calm regarding oligarch assets due to the complexity of confiscation procedures, property ownership guarantees, and ensuring "due process." Simultaneously, the first challenges against confiscation (nationalization) of property have emerged, including a claim to contest the confiscation of "Sense Bank" (formerly Alfa-Bank) with a demand for a $1 billion compensation.
4. What are your expectations for 2024? Can Ukrainians expect firm decisions from the West regarding Russian assets?

I believe that the issue of confiscating "sovereign assets," – those notorious hundreds of billions (mostly in securities), will soon see progress, albeit due to the difficulties in continuous funding among Western countries.

In the spring, the full launch of the International Register of Damage in The Hague, established under the Council of Europe's auspices, is expected. Specific categories of natural persons, such as owners of destroyed or damaged housing, will be the first to submit claims for damages caused by the Russian Federation. Negotiations on establishing a compensation commission and fund, in line with the UN General Assembly Resolution adopted almost a year ago, are also underway. The fund must be filled with partners' contributions and assets confiscated from Russia, as the aggressor state is responsible for the damage repair under international law.

For colleagues interested in the topic, I recommend international forums and roundtables. There are many English-language platforms for international relations, legal professionals, and experts, including specialized blogs like EJIL: Talk, Just Security, and Lawfare, as well as coverage from reputable publications like Financial Times and Bloomberg.

In Ukraine, official news in the state language is provided by the Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutor General's Office, and other executive authorities. Numerous domestic online publications also cover crucial news related to the prospects of reparations and confiscation of Russian property.

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5. Thank you, and our last question. It is obvious that in the case of bringing the aggressor to justice, it is worth combining the efforts of the state and civil society. So the question is: do you communicate your civic and scientific position to the government? Maybe share your own experience with colleagues-scientists?

Of course. I'm trying I am in regular contact with individual Ukrainian officials, scientists and activists. I communicate a lot with lawyers and representatives of the academy from the EU, Great Britain, the USA and Canada. I keep my own blogs in Ukrainian and English and plan a series of further publications. I believe in our victory!
6. Thanks for the answers, Artem. I wish you success!

Thank you for the interest of the NGO «Progresylni» in this important topic.
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