Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the mobilization of frozen Russian assets has been discussed at EU level. Estonia has taken the initiative to turn those words into actions, writes Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200).
Russia's aggression in Ukraine has lasted a year and a half. The war and genocide continue. Hundreds of Ukrainians are dying and tens of thousands of children have been deported. Russia must take responsibility for this and be made to compensate for the damage. The best way to do this is to mobilize the frozen assets of the Russian state and oligarchs. No European country has been able to take any concrete steps, however, Estonia is ready to show the way and make a real breakthrough.
Estonia has experience to share with its partners
I have now been to Ukraine three times as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the picture that has emerged will stay with me for a long time - signs of war damage at every turn. People have lost their loved ones, homes have been ruined, and schools, hospitals, roads and ports have been destroyed. Russia's crimes of aggression, destruction and brutality will remain with Ukraine for decades to come. But Ukraine is not alone in this horror.
As Ukraine fights fierce battles and reclaims its territory, meter by meter, the first steps towards the reconstruction of Ukraine can already be seen. Estonia has not stood idly by. Two projects have been completed with our help. In June, I had the honor of opening a new kindergarten with a shelter in Ovruch, and two weeks ago we opened the Malyn Bridge in Zhytomyr Oblast, which was reconstructed with Estonian support.
These projects will certainly not be the last. Estonia's next project will be to build three family homes for Ukrainian children left orphaned by the war, in cooperation with the Olena Zelenska Foundation, founded by Ukraine's First Lady.
These are landmark steps that show Estonia is continuing to rebuild Ukraine with determination and remains a role model for the world. We know that Ukrainians are not only fighting for their own freedom, and that is why we will continue to firmly support Ukraine on its path, now and in the future.
As proof of this, the state budget strategy for the next four years includes more than €30 million to help rebuild Ukraine, together with other countries. This is undoubtedly a major challenge for the business sector, however it will support the long-term economic development of Estonia. Estonia has experience to share with the G7 countries, the European Commission and our other partners.
Estonia and its people have shown great solidarity with Ukraine since the beginning of the war and have made significant donations. However, Estonian taxpayers will not have to pay for the war damage caused by Russia. Aggression is a crime and this crime has to be punished. The mobilization of Russia's frozen assets has been discussed at the European Union level since the beginning of the war. Estonia has taken the initiative to turn those words into actions.
On October 12, the government gave its approval to a plan, according to which, we would like to use Russia's frozen assets and channel them towards the reconstruction of Ukraine. Hopefully, the amendments to the law will soon be approved by the Riigikogu. Last spring showed that, despite domestic political disputes, several important foreign policy decisions were supported unanimously. I am therefore convinced that there is also cross-party support for this bill.
The European Union and the G7 countries have frozen the assets of the Russian central bank to the value of more than €300 billion. In Estonia, however, there is around €38 million-worth, so acting alone would have too small an impact. There is a consensus in the European Union that it makes sense to use the frozen assets of the aggressor to rebuild Ukraine, however, so far, no concrete steps have been taken.
So, what is Estonia's plan, for which we want to set an example to other EU countries? Simply put: first, where the aggressor has caused damage, which Ukraine has documented, Ukraine will make a claim against Russia, which [Russia] will obviously not accept. According to a bill, which is currently being drafted in Estonia, Ukraine will be able to ask Estonia to channel money from frozen Russian assets to [use for] the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Then, the Estonian judicial system comes into play, and will have to decide whether specific frozen assets can be transferred or taken over. So it will be a process that takes time, but the end result will be worth it.
No less important is the fact that if we transfer assets linked to an oligarch, we are giving that particular person a right to make a claim against their home country, Russia. Presumably, however, Russia will say that it is not going to pay out, which means that this could also cause some friction domestically.
There is one country in the world, which has set up its own scheme to mobilize Russia's frozen assets – Canada. Canada has a different legal system, which has allowed them to move more quickly, though implementing it will take some time. I will be visiting Canada shortly, and would like to look at their approach to discuss how we can have a broader impact with the initiatives that have been established. The more countries that come on board, the stronger the message to Russia will be.
Estonia's position is clear: we must continue to support any restrictions that would help pressure Russia into ending the war. It is important that the other Member States also take action, because acting alone we can only give the aggressor a slap on the wrist. However, together, we can give it a bite that leaves behind a painful scar.
Editor: Michael Cole