Lavrov Calls Borrell's Idea to Transfer Russia's Frozen Assets to Ukraine 'Theft'
13:43 GMT 10.05.2022 (Updated: 14:52 GMT 10.05.2022)
US and European officials have publicly brainstormed about what to do with the estimated $300 billion in frozen Russian assets trapped abroad since the start of Moscow's military operation in Ukraine. On Monday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell suggested EU members should seize these reserves and spend the money on Ukraine.
Josep Borrell's proposed seizure of Russian assets abroad would constitute theft, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.
"Well, you can even call this theft, which they are not even trying to hide", Lavrov said, speaking to reporters at a press conference during his visit to Algeria on Tuesday.
Lavrov suggested that "we may soon witness the elimination of the post of the European Union's top diplomat, since the EU practically does not have a foreign policy of its own, and instead fully supports the approaches imposed by the United States".
The Russian foreign minister reminded Mr Borrell that he is the EU's "top diplomat, and not the European Union's military leader".
The comments were the second time Lavrov has brought up the subject of Russian reserves stuck in foreign countries in recent days. Last week, the diplomat accused the West of "stealing" $300 billion-worth of Russian assets to "punish" Moscow for its military operation in Ukraine. Lavrov added that if Russia continued the status quo of non-ruble-based trade for Russian gas with Europe, Western countries could easily "pocket" the money again at their convenience.
1 May 2022, 22:52 GMT
Speaking to the Financial Times on Monday, Borrell said he would be "very much in favour" of seizing the Russian state's assets abroad, stressing that the idea is "full of logic".
"We have the money in our pockets, and someone has to explain to me why it is good for the Afghan money and not good for the Russian money", Borrell said, referring to the Afghan cash stuck in US and European central banks since last year, when the NATO-backed government in Kabul crumbled and the country was overrun by the Taliban immediately after the end of the West's 20-year occupation.
In February, the Biden administration announced that it would be seizing $3.5 billion from the $7 billion in Afghan money trapped in the Federal Reserve, and spending it to pay 9/11 victims' families following court cases. The other $3.5 billion would be spent on "humanitarian aid" to the impoverished, landlocked Asian nation, according to the White House.
Lavrov brought up the seizure of Afghanistan's reserves in his remarks Tuesday. "They froze money belonging to Afghanistan - to the Afghan central bank, in America. And they want to spend this money not for the needs of the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered from the consequences of 20 years of NATO operating in their country, but for some other purposes not related to the restoration of the Afghan economy", the foreign minister said.
Ex-Afghan Prez Slams US Move to Spend Seized Reserves on 9/11 Families, Says Afghans are Victims Too
13 February 2022, 17:41 GMT
Last week, the Biden administration asked Congress for legal authority to ease the transfer of seized Russian government and oligarch assets to Ukraine. In April, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Russian cash stuck in the US could be transferred to Ukraine pending new legislation, and in coordination with America's allies, but added that she wouldn't recommend taking the decision "lightly".
Tit for Tat Threats
Also last week, Russian Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin warned that Moscow could take retaliatory measures against Western companies operating in Russia if the US and its allies moved forward with their confiscation plans.
"As far as companies based in Russian territory are concerned whose owners are citizens of hostile countries and where the decision has been taken [to seize Russian assets], it is fair to take reciprocal measures and confiscate assets. And the proceeds from the sale of these assets will be used for our country's development", Volodin said.
Russian opposition lawmakers have asked questions about how the country's fiscal authorities could have allowed the holding of Russia's hard-earned reserve assets in unfriendly countries abroad in the first place, with economist and A Just Russia - For Truth MP Mikhail Delyagin blaming Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina for the disaster. Siluanov and Nabiullina's defenders have offered a number of justifications for the oversight, saying that some reserves were placed in Western banks to collect interest, while securities and government bonds generally tend to be held in those countries that issue them. The governing United Russia party reappointed Nabiullina as Central Bank governor on President Vladimir Putin's recommendation on 21 April.