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Official: Proceeds from frozen Russian assets could take up to two years to reach Ukraine

Foreign Affairs Ministry building in Tallinn.
Foreign Affairs Ministry building in Tallinn. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

While domestic legislation underpinning the utilization of frozen Russian assets for donation to Ukraine is being processed at the Riigikogu, international treaties that are also required will lag a year or two behind this, a senior official says.

Estonia's bill has passed its first Riigikogu reading of three, Erki Kodar, foreign ministry deputy secretary general for legal and consular affairs told ETV show "Välissilm" Monday.

Even in Estonia, the birthing process of the bill, from cabinet approval to first Riigikogu reading, has been quite difficult, Kodar said.

"The bill tries to balance the two benefits," he told "Välissilm."

One of these is that of the public good under the understanding of international law, which would oblige Russia to compensate for damages.

"The other relates to the protection of our own private property. But this must fit in with European sanctions policy, whence the frozen assets arise. In Estonia, there are somewhere around €30 million-worth of these. From that point, it is at our own discretion, or choice, to think about whether, and on what occasions, we want to use this tool," Kodar went on.

The issue has been the subject of discussion for a year and a half already, which also serves to demonstrate how much of a complex legal issue it is, he added.

"When this [asset transfer] might happen is hard to say. My belief is that if we can see that there is the conviction that we will move this issue forward at G7 and EU levels, and in Estonia, then this would send a clear signal that violations of international law come with consequences."

"It may take some time to build up the system underpinning it, however. In terms of international agreements also, this could take a year or too. Maybe a little less with regard to some other mechanisms, but in any case we will reach that point, and carry it out," he continued.

The foreign minister would make decisions on what to do with seized assets in Estonia, and then would submit proposals to the first-tier administrative court.

Again, this requires the international system of treaties, currently lacking.

This could include agreements with Ukraine itself, or a register of damages held at the Council of Europe, a wholly separate entity from the EU, ready for utilization when all war damage in Ukraine can be estimated, with a view to reparations being paid.

The U.S., the U.K. and other major Western nations, are discussing the legal aspects of sequestering frozen Russian assets, with the main obstacle being that under international law states, regardless of how they may have acted or may be viewed, are presupposed to hold immunity.

A mechanism of counter measures via international law would be highly exceptional, Kodar said, though added that this may even have a broader application than just Ukraine, in the context of Europe's security architecture and that of NATO.

Kodar said the concept is currently being very strongly pushed by Britain's foreign secretary, David Cameron.

In this case a mechanism that can override the immunity of states could in one way or another make use of €300 billion and which could be provided to Ukraine at various stages of its reconstruction.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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