The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials.
Until recently, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had argued that without action by Congress, seizing the funds was “not something that is legally permissible in the United States.” There has also been concern among some top American officials that nations around the world would hesitate to keep their funds at the New York Federal Reserve, or in dollars, if the United States established a precedent for seizing the money.
But the administration, in coordination with the Group of 7 industrial nations, has begun taking another look at whether it can use its existing authorities or if it should seek congressional action to use the funds. Support for such legislation has been building in Congress, giving the Biden administration optimism that it could be granted the necessary authority.
The talks among finance ministers, central bankers, diplomats and lawyers have intensified in recent weeks, officials said, with the Biden administration pressing Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan to come up with a strategy by Feb. 24, the second anniversary of the invasion.
The more than $300 billion of Russian assets under discussion have already been out of Moscow’s control for more than a year. After the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with Europe and Japan, used sanctions to freeze the assets, denying Russia access to its international reserves.
But seizing the assets would take matters a significant step further and require careful legal consideration.
President Biden has not yet signed off on the strategy, and many of the details remain under heated discussion. Policymakers must determine if the money will be channeled directly to Ukraine or used to its benefit in other ways. [Continue reading…]