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European Commission positive on Estonia's Russian asset seizure initiative

Flags of Estonia and the European Union.
Flags of Estonia and the European Union. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

A European Commission spokesperson has welcomed Estonia's moves to look at options for the full confiscation of Russian assets frozen in the wake of Russia's ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine.

The funds, estimated to total around €20 million, could also potentially be put towards the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, Estonia argues.

Speaking at a press conference, Christian Wigand, European Commission spokesperson in the areas of justice, equality and the rule of law, said that while the commission generally does not comment on member states' statements, in this case the commission's stance is clear, adding that other member states following suit would be welcome.

Proposals submitted in early December aimed at harmonizing EU sanctions evasions penalties may also give scope for asset seizure, Wigand added, but said that a wait-and-see attitude would be needed on Estonia's actions in that the potential move has not been decided upon at domestic government level yet, in addition to the legal framework required.

At the same time, the commission is onside, and is working with its own legal team and with Sweden, which currently holds the rotating six-month Council of the EU presidency.

An Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Mihkel Tamm, has also told ERR that the relevant ministries are required to submit a plan to the cabinet, on how to proceed with the issue from a legal perspective.

The seizure of assets would, from the perspective of international law, need to negotiate a way around the legal norm of the immunity of nation states, not helped by the fact that Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

It is estimated that the value of Russian property that could be transferred in Estonia comes to €20 million.

While around €350 billion may be the total figure needed as reparations to Ukraine, the combined frozen assets of Russian oligarchs, along with the assets of Russia's central bank, come to around the same figure.

The full European Commission press conference, in English, featuring Christian Wigand and others, is below.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice announced earlier this month they are developing a legal basis for the transfer of assets, with a draft proposal due to be presented to the government next month

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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