Two years ago, at the start of the war in Ukraine, $300 billion in Russian assets were frozen in Western banks. The assumption behind Western economic pressure on Russia was that sanctions and seizures of oligarchs’ funds would have a chilling effect on both Russia’s economy and the pursuit of the war in Ukraine. They have not. As a result, for only the second time in history, the United States is considering seizing Russian assets. Congress, in the lead, has brought the Biden administration around. The President needs new authorities to move forward. But seizing the frozen $300 billion – only $5 billion of which is in the United States – and re-distributing it to Ukraine for reconstruction and other reparation efforts is fraught. Will the Euros go along? Will this radical change affect how states approach seizing aggressors’ assets? Perhaps more importantly, is the Biden administration’s signal of approval for the policy just talk, or will Washington finally pull together measures that hit Russia where it hurts?

Stephen Rademaker, currently Senior of Counsel at Covington and Burling LLP, has wide-ranging experience working on national security issues in the White House, the State Department, and the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Serving as an Assistant Secretary of State from 2002 through 2006, he headed at various times three bureaus of the State Department, including the Bureau of Arms Control and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Previously, he served as General Counsel of the Peace Corps, Associate Counsel to the President in the Office of White House Counsel, and as Deputy Legal Adviser to the National Security Council.

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