I wake every morning these days wondering what atrocity Russia has perpetuated as I slept. They seem to come one after the other, so many involving the destruction of cities and the killing of civilians. So much for the rules of war. But it is the (former) Soviet Union we are talking about here, now Russia. Jumping back 30 years or so, the primary concern of the architects of the “new Russia” seemed to have been only how to maintain control over the republics, that is, the Soviet satellites.  So much of the debate centered on how to keep Ukraine in check, and how not to lose territory, resources, and Russian “property” that in fact never belonged to them. This specifically included the country of Ukraine itself, Donbas, Crimea, and Sevastapol, the Baltics, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and so on- essentially all the countries (and their resources) that Russia had invaded and occupied and that Russia claimed as their own. Russian imperialism, couched in the reforms of Gorbachev- Glasnost and Perestroika, failed.  Yeltsin’s Russian “democracy” failed. The only thing that succeeded was their barbaric, imperialistic march toward their centuries-old goal of geopolitical domination, manifested today in their dictator Putin and Russia’s invasion, once again, of the sovereign state of Ukraine.

Seizure, Forfeiture, U.S. and International Law

Lately I have been reading about the economic side of the war, reparations, and future reconstruction. Recently the Brookings Institution posted a report that provides background arguments on restitution, freezing of assets, asset forfeiture constitutional and international legality, and so on. “Proposals to Seize Russian Assets to Rebuild Ukraine: Session 22 of the Congressional Study Group” was posted on the Brookings website on Rebuilding Ukraine Will Be Costly. Here’s How to Make Putin Pay for background, and Philip Zelikow’s A Legal Approach to the Transfer of Russian Assets to Rebuild Ukraine and Laurence Tribe’s essay $100 Billion. Russia’s Treasure in the U.S. Should Be Turned Against Putin for pro-forfeiture arguments.

My summary: whether or not the forfeiture of Russian assets is legal still remains a point of debate amongst the experts. But to me seizure seems clearly legal- or at least it could be made legal by all that I read. Arguments for forfeiture- under U.S. and international law, are supported by various constitutional lawyers such as Philip Zelikow and Laurence Tribe. Paul Stephan in Seizing Russian Assets gives clear arguments against forfeiture legality, but at the same time indicates that precedents are lacking.  Based on arguments from both “sides” forfeiture can be construed as a grey area.

While precedent does not exist, international law may be used to justify the forfeiture of all Russian property now under seizure- numerous references are made to the UN Charter, which Russia selectively abides by. They clearly have violated the Charter. Whether or not the Charter allows for forfeiture, or only seizure, is again in question by the experts.

Another argument for- Russia’s cyberattacks on the U.S. could also point to an “act of aggression” against us, tipping the argument toward forfeiture.  This would fall under U.S. law- see specifically the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 (IEEPA) and the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 (TWEA), Also see the Patriot Act of 2001 and how it may affect both Acts.

Finally, and this is something I found no references to in terms of the forfeiture argument, there is the question of crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide committed by Russia. When and how do these international crimes affect the legality of forfeiture of Russian assets? Perhaps it is time to set a new precedent while these crimes are being committed, rather than waiting till after the fact to sue for restitution. See Sophie Williams’ articles on DiplomaticCourier.com for some food for thought- UKRAINE’S OPTIONS FOR PROSECUTING RUSSIA, AN INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL IS NOT UKRAINE’S SOLUTION, and LESSONS FROM BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA FOR UKRAINE.  

Russian Combat Losses as of 21 January, 2023

How many Russians will Putin send to die?

Russian combat losses as of 21 January, 2023

Russian combat losses as of 21 January, 2023