Russia-Ukraine conflict: EU plans war crimes court

Bloc proposes to use frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine, says von der Leyen

The European Union has outlined plans to make Russia answer for war crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine and pay reparations for its invasion, as Kyiv pressed western allies to deliver more air defence systems to counter missile strikes by Moscow’s forces.

“Russia must pay for its horrific crimes, including for its crime of aggression against a sovereign state. This is why ... we are proposing to set up a specialised court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

“Secondly, Russia must also pay financially for the devastation that it caused. The damage suffered by Ukraine is estimated at €600 billion. Russia and its oligarchs have to compensate Ukraine for the damage and cover the costs for rebuilding the country.”

The EU says it has blocked €300 billion in Russian central bank reserves and frozen €19 billion belonging to Russian oligarchs, since the Kremlin launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.


In a separate statement, the European Commission proposed in the short-term to “set up a structure to manage the frozen public funds, invest them and use the proceeds in favour of Ukraine.

“In the long-term: once the sanctions are lifted, the central bank assets will need to be returned. This could be linked to a peace agreement, which compensates Ukraine for the damages it has suffered. The assets that would need to be returned could be offset against this war reparation.”

The Kremlin says western sanctions are illegal and any appropriation of Russian assets would amount to theft.

At the same time, Moscow has warned Nato powers that they risk being dragged into the war if they continue to provide Ukraine with increasingly powerful weapons.

Ukraine is pushing hard for more air defence weapons, particularly the US-made Patriot system, after Russia destroyed more than a third of its power grid in repeated missile strikes, causing long and frequent blackouts in much of the country as winter takes hold.

“The message is simple: give Patriots as soon as you can ... because this is the system that Ukraine needs to protect its civilian population and critical infrastructure,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said between meetings with Nato counterparts in Romania.

Germany offered recently to send Patriots to Poland, which in turn said it would make more sense to send them to neighbouring Ukraine.

“We are ready to accept them; we are ready to operate them in the safest and most efficient way. And ... I would like to reiterate that this is a purely defensive weapon. We will be working with the German government on this particular issue,” Mr Kuleba said.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Ukraine’s allies were eager to boost its air defences and ensure it had enough ammunition for Soviet-era systems now in its arsenal.

He accused the Russian president Vladimir Putin of aiming to “freeze and starve Ukrainians, force them from their homes,” in the belief that “if he can just raise the costs high enough, the world will abandon Ukraine ... His strategy has not and will not work.”

Ukraine has also asked allies for urgent delivery of equipment to repair its power grid, and Mr Blinken unveiled $53 million (€51 million) in US aid for that cause on Tuesday.

Mr Kuleba ordered security to be increased at Ukrainian embassies on Wednesday after a guard at the country’s mission in Madrid was slightly injured when a parcel exploded.

He also said “whoever is behind this explosion will not intimidate Ukrainian diplomats or stop their daily work on strengthening Ukraine and resisting Russian aggression”.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe