Here's how US, allies make Putin pay for war of aggression against Ukraine

by Rep. French Hill, former Speaker Newt Gingrich
Fox News
March 20, 2024

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to conquer Ukraine is a clear violation of the international order, which was established with the founding of the United Nations in 1945. 

The brutality and viciousness of the Russian attack constitute massive violations of international law. Russian forces have violated and slaughtered civilians, kidnapped children and indiscriminately bombed noncombatants. 

In Russia and across the globe, Putin’s persecution, imprisonment and poisoning of political opponents make even clearer how his dictatorship operates outside the boundaries of civilized behavior. 

By any plasible stanard, Putin is a war criminal. 

There is a clear, nonviolent response to Russian aggression, which would weaken Putin and strengthen Ukraine at no cost to the American taxpayer.

There are currently an estimated $300 billion in Russia assets frozen in accounts around the world. With effective sanctions and an intense American diplomatic campaign, that $300 billion could be transferred to Ukraine.

In effect, Russia could be made to pay and to provide economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine to rebuild the cities and towns it has attacked.

This is why one of us and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, have been championing a bill, H.R. 4175, the Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians Act (REPO), to seize Russian assets and convert them to aid for Ukraine. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, has a similar bill, S. 2003, in the Senate.

These two bills could become law if only President Biden would support this effort. In fact, the law could be passed with remarkable speed and huge majorities. The House bill came out of committee on a 40 to 2 vote. The Senate bill came out of committee with a 20 to 1 vote.

The Wall Street Journal has strongly supported converting Russian assets into Ukraine aid. On Feb. 21, the paper’s Editorial Board wrote:

"Mr. Biden and Western nations have been reluctant to confiscate the $300 billion or so in Russian reserve funds parked in Western financial institutions. They were frozen when Russia invaded, but there they sit two years later collecting dust and interest. It’s almost as if Mr. Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz imagine that the money might be an inducement for Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace deal and rejoin the civilized world.

"But there are no signs that Mr. Putin will settle for a peace short of Ukraine’s capitulation…

"There is clear precedent for this financial strategy of using the aggressor’s resources. The United States seized resources from Iraq in 1992 and from the Afghan Government in 2022. The precedents are clear."

There is growing interest for this plan. A group of experts, including Democratic lawyer Laurence Tribe, recently wrote a 199-page legal analysis in support of it. The $300 billion in frozen assets is reportedly made up of 200 billion euros, $67 billion, and 37 billion British pounds. The funds represent about half of Russia’s available foreign exchange reserves. 

Even the Biden administration is starting to come around to this idea. At the G-20 Summit in Sao Paolo, Brazil, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, "It is necessary and urgent for our coalition to find a way to unlock the value of these immobilized assets." Yellen said the money could be used for reconstruction and resistance to Putin’s efforts. 

Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council recently argued that Congress should give the administration the authority it needs to seize the sovereign assets (financial and real property). The REPO Act does just that. If the U.S. leads the effort, our European allies could quickly follow suit and give Ukraine a significant boost to morale and effectiveness.

We agree with Berman that confiscating Russian funds is useful. But as he wrote, "at the end of the day, there is simply no substitute for a robust package of U.S. military and economic aid to ensure Kyiv’s victory." 

American aid can be dramatically strengthened with billions in Russian money converted to Ukrainian uses. This would meet a lot of Ukraine’s economic needs at no cost to the American taxpayer.

The United States cannot wait for G-7 approval to lead or act. Congress should pass the REPO Act immediately, and President Biden should sign and swiftly implement it.

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