Not Legal for US to Seize Russian Assets to Pay for Ukraine Reconstruction

  • Yellen said it “would not be legal now” for the US to use seized Russian government assets to rebuild Ukraine.
  • She suggested talks were underway on a Western-led effort to rebuild Ukraine over the long term.
  • Biden has pushed to seize assets from Russian oligarchs, but it could run into constitutional problems.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen conceded that it would not be legal for the US to seize frozen assets from Russia’s central bank and use it to finance Ukraine’s reconstruction once the Kremlin’s invasion ends.

Traveling overseas for a meeting of G-7 finance ministers, Yellen opened the door to a Western-led effort to rebuild Ukraine. But the US is not in a position to seize frozen Russian government money.

“While we’re beginning to look at this, it would not be legal now in the United States for the government to seize” those assets, she told reporters in Bonn, Germany. “It’s not something that is legally permissible in the United States.”

The US, alongside its European allies, swiftly froze over $300 billion in Russian central bank assets at the onset of the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine in February. German finance minister Christian Lindner suggested this week that the country is open to using those seized assets to rebuild a devastated Ukraine.

The Russian government quickly assailed the idea and called it “outright theft,” The Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The Kremlin said it would trigger an “appropriate response” from them.

President Joe Biden last month urged a measure allowing the federal government to seize assets of oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But that may collide into constitutional issues if it bypasses any judicial protections under the fourth amendment’s clause preventing property seizures without due process.

By contrast, European countries have had an easier time seizing Russian assets such as yachts, private jets, and luxury apartments.

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