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According to this about $1 trillion dollars of Russian assets have been frozen by the international community

This money is currently 'frozen', not 'taken' i.e. there's an expectation that it will at some point be given back once Russia starts behaving itself.

By what mechanism might some (or all) of these assets be allocated to Ukraine as war reparations?

Currently Russia is supported only by Syria, China and Venezuela. Most of the rest of world is either firmly in the Ukrainian camp, or discretely keeping quiet.

War reparation's have been imposed in the past, but have always been future-dated (by this I mean the country penalised was told "you need to pay war-reparations of $xxx over the next ??? years") and they always required the agreement (albeit reluctant) of the country making the payment.

Bearing in mind the old axiom 'possession is nine-tenths of the law' and the overwhelming majority of countries against Russia, can't the international community just take the money and give it to Ukraine to help re-build their country?

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    China is not exactly supportive. More supportive than India, but not by much. bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-60615280 Mar 6, 2022 at 13:36
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    Please note, that that "international community" is basically Nato countries, which are only technically not at war (supplying weapons and "volunteers", just like Russia did it in 2014), and they comprise less than 15% of the world population. And the bigger countries who are neutral (like China) are no fans of Nato, but stay neutral because they have nothing to gain from diplomatic incidents. At such a stage global politics is not about "fairness" but about interests. Just for the sake of context.
    – vsz
    Mar 7, 2022 at 5:19
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    Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Indonesia, Japan, Nigeria, DRC, and many other large countries also voted to condemn the invasion. So it's hardly just Nato who oppose the war.
    – Stuart F
    Mar 7, 2022 at 17:07

6 Answers 6

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For reparations to be meaningfully paid towards rebuilding Ukraine, Russia would have to be militarily defeated and driven out.

Short of that, they'll probably negotiate with the West an unfreezing/return of their assets in return for some concessions in Ukraine... or elsewhere. Remember, they could still easily occupy non-NATO countries like Moldova etc., which their armies are presently headed for. (Like Moldova, Georgia also is suddenly pressing for EU membership. So we might see a 2nd invasion of that country, if Putin feels like doing it.)

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    For reparations to be meaningfully paid towards rebuilding Ukraine, Russia would have to be militarily defeated and driven out. - is that all that would be required? Are you implying that if the Russian army is repelled they would automatically pay reparations? What would happen in other scenarios like Russia deciding the invasion was too costly and leaving? Or Ukraine depleting Russia's entire conventional army but not themselves attacking Russian land? Is it a given that Russia would pay reparations in those scenarios?
    – stevec
    Mar 7, 2022 at 0:36
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    @stevec Not to impose here, but I'm almost sure the meaning there was "If the Russian army is not repelled, then reparations aren't happening".
    – user45266
    Mar 7, 2022 at 5:19
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    @user45266 : and even if the Russian army has to retreat from Ukraine, but Russian soil is not in danger to be invaded, then it's not happening either.
    – vsz
    Mar 7, 2022 at 5:27
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    @stevec: I didn't discuss it because it's impossible for foresee the minutia of such scenarios. But generally, from past wars, reparations weren't paid or even on the table unless one side was utterly defeated and so had almost nothing to bargain with against the prospect of paying those reparations. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_reparations for a list. Mar 7, 2022 at 6:27
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    @stevec I think Fizz only set out to describe a necessary condition, not a sufficient one
    – Chris H
    Mar 7, 2022 at 15:03
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It would take a whole lot of foolishness by the parts of the international community - Ukraine excepted - supporting the idea.

The last thing one wants to do is to corner Putin and Russia into a do-or-die situation where they perceive losing as an existential threat. Right now, there is nothing really significant to be gained by Russia in persevering in Ukraine, except avoiding a loss of face.

Let's not take steps to change that calculation.

This, needless to say, is based entirely on Russia's possession of nuclear weapons. Along with a dash and a smidgen of remembering that Western countries do occasionally bomb other countries and would fight back tooth and nail to avoid making such reparations themselves.

The way out, completely unhindered and very attractive, should be left wide open and welcoming to Putin.

(If it looks like I am not answering the question, it is because I am challenging the desirability of this action. A frame shift.)

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  • Comments deleted. If you want to debate the war, please do that in the chatroom.
    – Philipp
    Mar 8, 2022 at 11:52
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    -1: This sounds a lot like "We shouldn't ask Russia to pay reparations to Ukraine because we're afraid they'll launch their nukes instead". While that's a possible outcome, should that really be the way the world order works? Any country with nukes can just go ahead and forcibly invade a neighbour just because they feel like it, and if it goes badly, then no harm no foul?
    – Ertai87
    Nov 15, 2022 at 17:42
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    Not going to alter the gist of my answer, but the UN vote , which I approve of, is good and puts more pressure on Russia. However... it is non-binding and will not, by itself, effect those repayments. I would also remind people of the cautionary tale of the Versailles Treaty in 1918 whose near-bankrupting of Germany directly facilitated the rise of Hitler. Force repayments onto a state retaining nukes? Nov 15, 2022 at 17:42
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    @Ertai87 you're welcome to your opinion. I tend to privilege ethical practicality over pie in the sky "principles" myself. Nothing here is to support Russia in its stupid war, only to get it the f*** out of Ukraine soonest. If you want a nuclear war, good for you, but that is not even my main point here. Without military defeat on Russian territory, there can be no forced reparations. Is that something you want to sign up for? Nov 15, 2022 at 17:45
  • The UN is a toothless and ridiculous organization. Russia themselves is a member of the UN Security Council, that more or less says all you need to know about how effective they are at anything.
    – Ertai87
    Nov 15, 2022 at 17:46
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Historically, reparations were imposed by the winners on the losers, often as part of an armistice or peace treaty. The 'leverage' in such negotiations was to continue warfare. There seems to be no prospect of such things happening anytime soon.

The confiscation of enemy assets during wartime has also been common for a long time. It would be silly to shoot at a country and still faithfully send over dividends on their investments. But the rights of neutrals were carefully protected by customary international law.

The sanctions happening now are something else. A government orders their banks not to pay money owed to a different country which is not at war at this time. In slightly different circumstances, the name for that is default, and a default makes it very difficult to find new investors afterwards. These are not ordinary times, but 'the West' is seriously hurting their reputation as a reliable financial partner right now, at least in the eyes of 'non-Western' countries. The US can get away with such things more easily than, say, Liechtenstein could, simply because of the size of the American economy, but it is walking a thin line. The world won't forget the outright theft of Russian deposits unless it is clear to everybody (and not just 'the West') that Russia is at fault.

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    How exactly is Russia an enemy? Is there a war declaration? Is Ukraine in Nato? Freezing their assets is completely illegal and indeed unusual. Mar 6, 2022 at 19:39
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    It's not "theft", because the deposits have only been frozen, not repossessed. Forced sale of FCs and F1 teams may be a different story. But freezing assets due to sanctions has a long history (c.f. Iran, also Russia) without any major loss of confidence in the Western financial system. Mar 6, 2022 at 21:03
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    @user1721135 You wonder how Russia is an enemy? They weren't before, and NATO states all wound down their militaries because of that. Putin has explicitly declared Russia an enemy of NATO though, and when the leader of a country declares that his country is your enemy, you have to believe him.
    – Graham
    Mar 6, 2022 at 22:25
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    @Graham, NATO has been careful not to declare war on Russia. Under interational law, one can deplore a war and still not join.
    – o.m.
    Mar 7, 2022 at 5:13
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    @o.m. Your answer wasn't concerned with whether anyone else declared war, it was whether Russia was recognised as being at fault by the whole world. They are. We don't need to declare war to recognize that. And we can take appropriate defensive measures against someone who's declared themselves our enemy without declaring war and attacking ourselves.
    – Graham
    Mar 7, 2022 at 8:35
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In November 14, 2022, The United Nations General Assembly called for Russia to be held accountable (UN, Reuters, BBC) for its conduct in Ukraine.

The resolution, supported by 94 of the assembly's 193 members (14 against, 73 abstained), said Russia, which invaded its neighbor in February, "must bear the legal consequences of all of its internationally wrongful acts, including making reparation for the injury, including any damage, caused by such acts."

This resolution is legally non binding by itself but may target the criticism of kind "then money can be taken away at any time from anyone". It is no longer a single government decision. Russian PR now claims that the money will be divided between Western states rather than giving them to Ukraine, maybe for weapons. This obviously would be a wrong thing to do.

I am not sure if it is actually a requirement to wait for the end of the war. Russia has recently done a large damage to the Ukrainian infrastructure, knocking out over 40 % of its energetic grid all over the country with drone and rocket strikes. For which money this is gonna to be repaired?

70 years ago, the Soviet Union demanded and received reparations, calling it a moral right of a country that has suffered war and occupation.

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    Ukraine is an independent state so nobody really has obligations to repair its energy grid but itself.
    – alamar
    Nov 15, 2022 at 13:05
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    This may somewhat depend on who damaged the energy grid.
    – Stančikas
    Nov 15, 2022 at 13:12
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    Easy for people to make a call for something like that but it is much harder to make it actually happen.
    – Joe W
    Nov 15, 2022 at 14:22
  • It's quite easy to make it happen, just stuff it into the peace treaty or just a ceasefire. It does indeed seem that Kremlin is desperate for one at the moment. Continuing the war and expecting your opponent to foot your bills does seem unprecedented.
    – alamar
    Nov 15, 2022 at 14:28
  • @alamar Even if you get all sides to agree to that in the peace treaty doesn't mean you can actually force them to carry through with it. And I don't think that is something Russia would agree to.
    – Joe W
    Nov 15, 2022 at 17:34
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The assets are currently frozen by the US, EU and a few other countries in the "officially neutral" bloc. The question essentially asks if these frozen assets can be assigned to Ukraine instead of Russia.

Assigning frozen Russian assets to Ukraine of course damage trade relations between Russia and the sanctioning countries. Russia will likely demand the full return of all its frozen assets as a precondition to resuming trade with them. On the other hand, the sanctioning countries are probably in no big hurry - the sanctions hurt Russia more.

This means neither side can really force the other to concede. A stalemate is quite possible, where the assets remain frozen for many years without a final decision either way.

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Traditionally, payment of reparations was regulated in treaty ending a war. Russia is unlikely to sign any soon, unless Putin dies in some highly unfortunate accident. (A few oligarchs died this way recently, so that may be contagious as some oligarchs may reach a conclusion, that they have nothing to lose.)

In Western countries there is rule of law, which prevents direct confiscation. So far there was a clear pressure to behave as if the measures were absolutely temporary like freezing of asset or compulsory administration of a few key companies. Technically speaking that sounded mild, was keeping options open and... the stuff was for all practical purposes under control anyway.

No, it can't just be taken. It would look improper. There should be some legal title first, like at least forming an international tribunal to investigate Russian war crimes and after the tribunal would confirm what we already know, there would be some ruling requiring Russia to pay compensation. Russia would of course refuse to pay anything, but luckily court bailiffs would find some frozen assets...

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  • Maybe the answer can be more clear on the requirements. It seems that some kind of international court or "tribunal" would be required. But how exactly would that look like? Nov 15, 2022 at 21:59

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