April 29, 2022
On April 28, the White House announced a proposal to allow U.S. authorities to liquidate the assets of Russian oligarchs and donate the proceeds to Ukraine—seeking what appears to be broad new legal powers to expand America’s financial war on the Kremlin amid bipartisan pressure in Congress, reports The Washington Post.
President Joe Biden will send the new plan to Congress along with a broader request for $33 billion to help the Ukrainians fight Russia’s invasion. Biden’s funding request includes:
- $20 billion in military assistance for Ukraine,
- $8.5 billion in economic assistance, and
- $3 billion in humanitarian aid.
He also is seeking other funding, including $500 million to support production of U.S. crops to address the global food shock caused by the war.
The White House has not revealed the legislative text behind its proposal regarding the Russian oligarchs, but has said that the proposal “would improve” the federal government’s ability to send seized funds to Ukraine. Under current law, the United States can typically only freeze—not seize or liquidate—the assets of sanctioned individuals.
Civil liberties groups had raised concerned that prior congressional proposals ran afoul of constitutional protections by allowing federal law enforcement to circumvent judicial procedure. It was not immediately clear how the White House would seek to change the existing statute without violating those protections.
“This package of proposals will establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools,” the White House said in a fact sheet.
The White House said the roughly $20 billion in military aid it is seeking would help provide Ukraine and the “Eastern flank” allies with artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor capabilities, and advanced air defense systems, among other weaponry.
The $8.5 billion in economic assistance would help Ukraine’s government pay for food, energy, and healthcare; while the humanitarian assistance is intended to buffer a growing international hunger crisis. Ukraine’s government has asked for at least $2 billion per month from the United States to meet its short-term economic needs.
The White House said its plan for liquidating Russian oligarch assets was released in close coordination with the Treasury Department, State Department, and Commerce Department.
Attorney General Merrick Garland previously told congressional lawmakers that he supports the efforts to repurpose seized Russian funds to Ukraine. But even some senior Biden administration officials had emphasized the need for caution around a potentially significant change in precedent to U.S. seizure law.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters last week that lawmakers needed to be careful when she was asked about a plan to give to the Ukrainians billions of dollars in seized Russian bank reserves.
“I would say that is very significant, and it is one that we would carefully need to think through the consequences of before undertaking it,” Yellen told reporters last week. “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly, and it’s something that I think our coalition and partners would need to feel comfortable with and be supportive of.”
The new powers sought by the White House reflect the pressure on the Western allies to intensify its economic campaign against Russia over its ongoing war against Ukraine. The Biden Administration’s proposal also includes a directive to make it a federal crime to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” and the Western allies are coordinating a response to Russia’s move to cut off natural gas to two NATO countries.
The latest White House proposal also calls for improving protections against money laundering and would give the United States the authority to seize proceeds of attempts to facilitate the evasion of sanctions.
Research contact: @washingtonpost