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US Senate authorizes confiscation of Russian assets

The US Senate has greenlit legislation authorizing the administration of President Joe Biden to seize the American assets of Russian officials, businessmen and entities and send the proceeds to Ukraine. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the change in the law would raise “billions of dollars” for Kiev.

The amendment was proposed by Graham and Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat. It passed unanimously and was added to a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package, which the Senate then passed by 68 votes to 29, comfortably clearing the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance the legislation.

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The amendment changes US law to allow the Department of Justice to sell off the assets of “oligarchs…and other sanctioned entities,” Graham explained before the vote. “I expect over time billions of dollars in seized assets will be sent to help Ukraine,” the South Carolina lawmaker wrote on Twitter afterwards.

The Department of Justice has already called on Congress to amend US law so that money confiscated from sanctioned Russians can be given to Ukraine.

Graham and Whitehouse have been among the loudest anti-Russian voices on Capitol Hill, even since before Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine in February. Graham traveled to Ukraine in 2016 in a show of support for Kiev as its forces shelled civilians in Donetsk and Lugansk, and in recent months has called for the assassination of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The US has to date sanctioned 1,097 Russian entities and 1,331 individuals, according to data from the Atlantic Council, a think tank funded by NATO and Western arms manufacturers. The total value of the US-held assets belonging to these targets is unclear.

The US and its allies have also frozen assets belonging to the Russian central bank, totaling around $300 billion. However, EU and US officials have thus far found no legal way of seizing these assets, which are mostly made up of foreign currency.

“A large part of our assets have been essentially stolen by specific Western countries,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated in October. “These are absolutely illegal actions, they are contrary to international law.” 

The spending bill passed on Thursday will next head to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to be approved by the Democrat-held chamber. A small number of Republicans have vowed to oppose the bill and to punish their fellow GOP lawmakers who vote for it.

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