Auctioning off one of those mega-yachts owned by Russian oligarchs may become easier if the Biden administration has its wish — and it would support a good cause.
The White House said Thursday it will seek authority to streamline the process for seizing sanctioned Russian assets and having the proceeds be used to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. The administration said it will send the proposal to Congress alongside a supplemental request to support Ukraine.
“We’re going to seize their yachts or luxury homes and other ill-begotten gains of Putin’s kleptocracy,” President Joe Biden said.
According to a fact sheet from the White House, the new streamlined process would involve the departments of the Treasury and Justice in forfeiting property in the United States that is owned by Russian oligarchs whom the U.S. has sanctioned.
The U.S. and its allies have sanctioned 21 members of the Russian Security Council and other associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with 140 oligarchs and Kremlin officials. The White House is also asking for authority to use forfeited oligarch funds to “remediate harms caused to Ukraine by Russian aggression.”
Members of the European Union have reported freezing more than $30 billion in assets of sanctioned Russian elites, including nearly $7 billion in boats, helicopters, real estate and artwork, the administration said.
►Ukraine and Russia exchanged prisoners Thursday, with 45 Ukrainians, including 5 wounded soldiers and 12 civilians, among those freed, Ukraine authorities said. No information was immediately available on Russians freed by Ukraine.
►The British government says a U.K. national has been killed in Ukraine and another is missing. No details were released, but Sky News reported that the two had been fighting for Ukraine.
►Poland’s border guard agency says that it has recorded 3 million crossings from neighboring Ukraine since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, including some involving people who crossed multiple times. About 1.6 million refugees have received ID numbers allowing them to work and receive free health care and education in Poland.
Russia says it has right to strike NATO multiple nations aiding Ukraine
Russia has the right to strike military targets in several NATO countries that supply arms to the Kyiv regime if Ukraine has the right to strike military targets in Russia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Zakharova cited comments from James Heappey, Britain’s undersecretary of state for the armed forces, who said this week that Ukraine had a legal right to strike military facilities on the Russian territory to disrupt the logistics of the Russian forces. Not disrupting them would “directly contribute to death and carnage” in Ukraine, Heappey said.
“Do we have the right understanding here? After all, it directly leads to deaths and bloodshed on Ukrainian territory. As far as I understand, Britain is one of those countries,” Zakharova said in her Telegram channel.
President Joe Biden on Thursday asked Congress to approve $33 billion in security, economic and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we let it happen,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggressions in Ukraine.”
The request includes $20.4 billion in additional security and military assistance for Ukraine and for U.S. efforts to strengthen European security in cooperation with NATO allies and other partners in the region. The resources would be used to put equipment into the hands of Ukraine’s military and police and to help NATO defend against Russia in the long run.
The funding request, if approved, would more than double the $13.6 billion package of defense and economic aid for Ukraine and Western allies that Congress passed last month. Biden has nearly exhausted that aid.
“I hope Congress moves quickly on this funding,” Biden said. “I think they will.”
Another $8.5 billion would fund economic assistance to help the Ukrainian government respond to the crisis caused by Russia’s invasion and to continue to provide basic services to its citizens, such as food, energy and health care. Some funding targets Russian disinformation, supporting agrobusinesses during the fall harvest and purchasing natural gas by the Ukrainian state energy company.
About $3 billion in humanitarian assistance would be used to address food security needs around the globe, provide wheat and other commodities to people in need and provide aid to people displaced by or otherwise impacted by the war.
“We are not attacking Russia,” Biden said. “We are helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression.”
President Joe Biden said Ukrainian refugees seeking to come to the United States should not try to enter through the border with Mexico.
“There’s no need to go to the southern border,” Biden said. “Fly directly to the United States.”
Biden added that his administration established a “mechanism whereby they can come directly with a visa.” The administration last week announced a new program to allow Ukrainian refugees to seek temporary refuge in the United States. Biden previously pledged the U.S. would accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled their homeland after it was invaded by Russian forces.
– Rebecca Morin
Guterres visits battered Ukraine cities
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres visited Kyiv and other Ukraine cities Thursday, condemning the atrocities in places such as Mariupol and Bucha. He pledged to continue efforts to expand humanitarian support and secure the evacuation of civilians from bombarded cities. Earlier this week, Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and said Putin had agreed “in principle” to allowing evacuation of residents from conflict zones.
“The sooner this war ends, the better – for the sake of Ukraine, Russia, and the world,” he tweeted.
About 100,000 residents remaining in Mariupol face “mortal danger” because of the shelling, as well as intolerable and unsanitary living conditions, the City Council warned. Threats include cholera, dysentery and E-coli, the council said in a statement. Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the city lacks water and sewer services due to unrelenting Russian airstrikes. And he fears the warming weather will speed decomposition of thousands of corpses under the rubble, fueling deadly epidemics.
“The occupiers are unable to provide the existing population with food, water and medicine – or they are simply not interested in it,” he said. “They are blocking all evacuation attempts. Without it, people will die. An immediate and complete evacuation is needed.”
The U.S. has reliable information that Russian military forces executed Ukrainians who were trying to surrender near Donetsk, officials said. The U.S. has credible reports and photos of individuals killed “execution-style” with their hands bound, including bodies showing signs of torture and accounts of sexual violence against women and girls, according to Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack,
“These images and reports suggest that atrocities are not the result of rogue units or individuals; they, rather, reveal a deeply disturbing pattern of systematic abuse across all areas where Russia’s forces are engaged,” she said at a United Nations meeting Wednesday.
Investigators and volunteers have also recorded what U.S. officials have described as a “troubling campaign” of brutality against civilians in towns near Kyiv after Russian forces withdrew from the area.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy detailed reports of killing, rape and torture in an address to the U.N. Security Council after visiting Bucha. He said Russian forces “killed entire families,” crushed civilians with tanks, cut off limbs and slashed throats.
American returns home after swap with Russia despite high tensions
A prisoner swap that took place despite elevated tensions between Russia and the U.S. resulted in the return home of a Marine veteran early Thursday. Trevor Reed’s mother shared the news on Twitter that her son had returned to U.S. soil while also advocating for Paul Whelan, another American held in Russia.
“Trevor is back in the USA,” Paula Reed tweeted Thursday. “It’s been a day of joy for us, but not for #PaulWhelan and his family. I know this is a hard day for them. Pls keep them (and the MANY others) in your prayers.”
Trevor Reed, 30, had spent nearly three years in a Russian prison after being accused of assaulting a Russian police officer following a night of drinking. He was sentenced to nine years. In exchange for his release, the Biden administration freed Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year sentence for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the U.S.
Russia still able to strike coastal targets despite loss of cruiser
Russia has been unable to replace the sunken Moskva with another ship because the Bosporus Strait remains closed to all non-Turkish warships, the British Defense Ministry said in it latest assessment of the war. The strait, connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea, was closed by the Turkish government days after Russia invaded Ukraine two months ago.
But despite the “embarrassing losses” of the landing ship Saratov and cruiser Moskva, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet retains the ability to strike Ukrainian coastal targets, the assessment warns. Ukraine claims to have sunk eight Russian ships.
About 20 Russian Navy vessels are currently in the Black Sea operational zone, including submarines, the assessment says.
At a time when Russia’s wielding its energy industry like a hammer (and sickle), a new report illustrates how powerful that weapon is. A study published Wednesday by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air calculates that Russia earned $66.5 billion from fossil fuel exports since its troops invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, with Germany as the biggest buyer.
Using data on ship movements, real-time tracking of gas flows through pipelines and estimates based on historical monthly trade, the researchers figured Germany paid Russia about 9.1 billion euros ($9.65 billion) for fossil fuel deliveries in the first two months of the war.