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Denys Malyuska: "The more sanctions, frozen assets, and criminal proceedings there are, more trump cards we have against Russia"

Ukraine has developed and launched a number of mechanisms to bring the leadership and military personnel of the Russian Federation to justice. Not all of them will be 100% successful, but they allow us to move away from the millennia-old concept that "the winners are not judged" and accumulate arguments for a strong negotiating position if victory on the battlefield is not achieved. Back in 2022, during negotiations, Russia demanded that sanctions be lifted. This was stated by Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska. During the discussion panel "Crime and Justice: How to Bring the Aggressor to Justice?" as part of the joint project of and EFI Group New Country, he outlined the mechanisms for punishing Russia and the achievements in this direction. 

Minister of Justice of Ukraine Denys Malyuska
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Minister of Justice of Ukraine Denys Malyuska

Confiscation of frozen assets

"If we are talking about the economic component of responsibility, we have a clear understanding that some of the damage caused by the Russian Federation can be compensated even before the war ends and regardless of how the war ends. There are funds of the Russian Federation frozen abroad, primarily sovereign funds, but there are also funds of state-owned companies and Russian oligarchs (compared to sovereign Russian funds, this is a very small part). Accordingly, we are working to ensure that the frozen funds of the Russian Federation are transferred to Ukraine - either to citizens or legal entities, the government, or a local sovereign department that suffered as a result of the war," said Denys Malyuska.

According to him, one of the key decisions will be made in June at the G7 summit in Italy.

"Most likely, it will be a political decision. It may not be final, but transitional. The first step will be taken with regard to the income from Russian assets - to transfer them in the interests of Ukraine or use them in some other way. Either to sequester the revenues through securities for a certain number of years ahead and pay these profits now, transferring to us the funds from the profits that will be received over the next 10, 20, 30 years," the minister said.

He also does not rule out a decision on full confiscation of assets in favour of Ukraine. It is unlikely to be adopted now, but our negotiating position is not to rule out this possibility in the future.

"We can definitely say that in the coming months, Russian money will start working for Ukraine. That is, some part of economic justice, albeit small, will be achieved without waiting for the end of the war," the head of the Ministry of Justice said. 

Criminal prosecution

According to Denys Malyuska, the criminal block has many components.

"This includes national investigations within the country, court proceedings, sentences for Russian prisoners of war, and sentences in absentia for those who were not caught. These are criminal proceedings abroad, in the national jurisdictions of our allies and partners. This is the activity of the International Criminal Court.

And the arrest warrant for Putin. A huge step forward. It's a crazy one. However, the radicalism and toughness of this action can be levelled out if the ICC issues a warrant against Israeli leaders. Then the image will be a little worse than it looks now... So far, the president of a permanent member of the UN Security Council is wanted. A wonderful, fantastic result. He is extremely restricted in his movements and has rather negative prospects," Malyuska said.

He also said that there is progress in creating a special tribunal for the crime of aggression.

"In fact, there are many directions. Lawyers are working, and there are many people willing to help. Many law firms and consultants to politicians provided services.

I especially like former officials in the United States: they have a lot of experience and knowledge. The most interesting conversations I had about holding Russia accountable during the full-scale invasion were with people who once held key positions and have already resigned. They have no barriers to speak frankly and give very useful advice," Malyuska said.

Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska

Legal measures as a trump card

One such former American official, the minister added, advised that all funds given to Ukraine for compensation or budget support should be used for the war. All possible funds should be spent on defence - this is the only way to win.

"I disagreed with him at the time, saying that we need hope and reconstruction. And now I agree... Without victory, nothing will happen - only some small steps, small successes. We have to win. And even if we don't win completely, there should be a convincing draw in our favour with maximum justice.

Let's take the worst, most pessimistic scenario that will not happen: we sign some kind of agreement, hypothetically. (This is not the government's position, we are not asking, demanding, predicting, it's not even me saying this). The war is not ending on our terms - we still have to have some arguments, some tricks up our sleeve at the negotiating table. The more sanctions, the more restrictions, the more frozen assets, the more criminal proceedings and lawsuits, the more trump cards we have up our sleeve to at least negotiate something. If we don't have this, then it's a one-way game: we surrender, we raise our hands, we learn the Russian national anthem and rhymes in Russian. There is no other option," Malyuska said. 

"The more we dig up now, the more spokes we put in the wheels of the Russian Federation, the better it will be for us later," he added.

Minister of Justice of Ukraine Denys Malyuska (centre)
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Minister of Justice of Ukraine Denys Malyuska (centre)

In his opinion, Russia is no longer fighting for territory, as it was in early 2022. It is now fighting for "legal, political, geopolitical, non-physical things".

"The most interesting thing for them was Crimea, which they took back in 2014. They have gained physical control. They are now working on intangible things - this is their key interest. To lift sanctions, to become 'ordained', to get international recognition that the territories are theirs, to change the well-known rule-based order, to change the balance of power in Europe so that they are taken into account, to change or establish their sphere of influence. And I think it is in this context that any future agreements that may arise should be considered. This will be their negotiating position for the withdrawal of troops from a district or village. This is not critical for them," the minister said.

He cited the documents from the 2022 talks as evidence of this, where the Russian side's condition was not territories.

"The key condition that they did not back down from, that they stuck to and demanded was that Ukraine abandon all legal measures that we had taken: lawsuits, statements, sanctions. When we said that you are not talking about our sanctions, but about Western sanctions, how can we sign up to lift sanctions, they said: okay, commit to asking your partners to lift sanctions. It is important to them, they are fighting for it, among other things. They want to return all in white, victorious on the world stage, with the recognition of Crimea. This is their key story for which they are fighting," the minister concluded.

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