LONDON — When the World Bank released its latest damage assessment of war-torn Ukraine last week, it announced that the price of recovery and rebuilding had grown to $411 billion. What it didn’t say, though, was who would pay for it.
To Ukraine, the answer seems obvious: Confiscate the roughly $300 billion in Russian Central Bank assets that Western banks have frozen since the invasion last year. As the war grinds on, the idea has gained supporters.
The European Union has already declared its desire to use the Kremlin’s bankroll to pay for reconstruction in Ukraine. At the urging of a handful of Eastern European and Baltic nations, the bloc convened a working group last month to assess the possibility of grabbing that money as well as frozen assets owned by private individuals who have run afoul of European sanctions.
“In principle, it is clear-cut: Russia must pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine,” said Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, who holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
At the same time, he noted, turning that principle into practice is fraught. “This must be done in accordance with E.U. and international law, and there is currently no direct model for this,” Mr. Kristersson said.
Other top officials, in the United States and elsewhere, have sounded more skeptical. After visiting Kyiv last month, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen reiterated her warnings of formidable legal obstacles. The Swiss government declared that confiscating private Russian assets from banks would violate Switzerland’s Constitution as well as international agreements.
The legal debate is just one skein in the tangle of moral, political and economic concerns that the potential seizure of Russia’s reserves poses.
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