The United States and other G7 countries are considering the possibility of confiscating the assets of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation to the benefit of Ukraine amid problems with the approval of Western aid to Kyiv. Debates over money for Ukraine and migration policy have already led to a conflict within the Democratic Party and will continue next year, while the Ukrainian military has already been forced to curtail operations due to ammunition shortage.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, hopes to agree on unblocking the border with Poland already this week, and the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Maliuk, announced new targeted strikes against the enemy.
G7 considers seizing Russian foreign assets to Ukraine's benefit
The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, The New York Times reports.
Until recently, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had argued that without action by Congress, seizing the funds was "not something that is legally permissible in the United States." There has also been concern among some top American officials that nations around the world would hesitate to keep their funds at the New York Federal Reserve, or in dollars, if the United States established a precedent for seizing the money.
However, the talks among finance ministers, central bankers, diplomats and lawyers have intensified in recent weeks, officials said. The Biden administration presses Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan to come up with a strategy by February 24, the second anniversary of the invasion, when the Munich Security Conference will be held in Germany.
Policymakers must also determine if the money will be channeled directly to Ukraine or used to its benefit in other ways.
Such a seizure of money from a sovereign country has never occurred before
Seizing such a large sum of money from another sovereign nation would be without precedent, and such an action could have unpredictable legal ramifications and economic consequences. It would almost certainly lead to lawsuits and retaliation from Russia.
Very little of the Russian assets, perhaps $5 billion or so by some estimates, are in the hands of U.S. institutions. But a significant chunk of Russia’s foreign reserves are held in U.S. dollars, both in the United States and in Europe. The United States has the power to police transactions involving its currency and use its sanctions to immobilize dollar-denominated assets.
The bulk of the Russian deposits are believed to be in Europe, including in Switzerland and Belgium, which are not part of the Group of 7.
The doomed issue: migration policy has put Biden at loggerheads with his own party
U.S. President Joe Biden has been left with only bad and worse options to solve the problem of sending aid to Ukraine, The Guardian argues, because its fate is tied to one of the thorniest issues in US politics: immigration.
The progressive wing of Biden’s party is already in uproar over his unwavering support for Israel in its war in Gaza, and if he is forced to adopt a hardline immigration policy, then that faction will probably be even more angered.
Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, demand that the Secure the Border Act (HR2) be adopted. It provides for severely restricting asylum eligibility, restarting construction of Donald Trump’s border wall and limiting migrants’ parole options.
Biden has made clear that Republicans should not expect to have all of their demands met but also noted that he was willing to make "significant compromises on the border" in order to pass the aid package for Kyiv through Congress.
"Will I have to vote against a package that has Ukraine dollars because of these draconian immigration policy changes? Yes," said congresswoman Nanette Barragán, a progressive Democrat. "But again, this is why we shouldn’t be linking them together. I completely support Ukraine aid."
Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll conducted in June found that 47% of Americans consider illegal immigration to be a very big problem in the country, up from 38% last year. The more conservative wing of the Democratic Party also supports limiting immigration.
Ukraine forced to downsize its offensive due to ammunition shortage
Ukraine is being forced to downsize some military operations and move to defense because of a drop-off in foreign aid, BBC reports, citing Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the of the operational-strategic force "Tavria".
General Tarnavskyi said that troops faced ammunition shortages along the "entire front line", creating a "big problem" for Kyiv and forcing it to re-plan some tasks. At the same time, the Defense Forces continue their offensive actions in some areas and also prepare reserves for further large-scale actions.
The EU pledged to send one million artillery shells by March 2024, but so far only 480,000 have been either delivered or are in the pipeline. Meanwhile, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than two million 155mm shells for use in Western-made artillery systems. But its own stocks have been depleted, prompting the decision last summer to send cluster munitions.
Ukraine is already using ammunition faster than partners can produce it. A report by the Estonian defense ministry said Kyiv needed a minimum of 200,000 artillery shells a month to retain an edge against Russia.
Speaking to the BBC, Ukraine's Deputy Defence Minister Ivan Havryliuk said the country was ramping up production of kamikaze drones "to compensate [for] the lack of artillery shells". Additionally, it was increasing its own production of artillery rounds "for almost the entire range" of its Soviet-era weapons.
Hopes are the border will be unblocked this week, says Kubrakov
According to Reuters, Ukraine hopes to reach agreement with the new Polish government this week to end truck blockades at the countries' border crossings, which resumed on Monday, December 18.
"We plan to come to a common position this week in Kyiv together with representatives of the Polish government," Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov was quoted as saying after he met with new Polish infrastructure minister Dariusz Klimczak in Warsaw.
Kubrakov said unblocking the border was the main topic of the meeting because major crossings were completely blocked and only three trucks had left Yahodyn in the past day. According to the minister, government representatives of Ukraine and Poland would hold another meeting in Kyiv before the end of this week.
"We presented key figures and analytical data on freight traffic by Ukrainian and Polish carriers, which show that the problems that the protesters are talking about do not actually exist," he said.
Ukrainian transport analysts say about 3,900 trucks are on the Polish side waiting for permission to enter Ukraine.
Maliuk pledged to stab Russia "with a needle in the heart"
Ukraine's spies aim to intensify intelligence operations and conduct sabotage strikes deep in Russian-controlled territory next year to bring the war as close to the Kremlin as possible, the head of Ukraine's SBU security service, Vasyl Maliuk, told POLITICO.
"We prepare surprises. The occupiers must understand that it will not be possible to hide. We will find the enemy everywhere," Maliuk said.
While he dodged specifics, Maliuk did give some hints. Logistics targets and military assets in occupied Ukrainian territory are likely to continue to be a focus. And then there are strikes that hit the enemy across the border.
One area of focus will be Crimea and the Black Sea, building on this year's operations. Malyuk’s pet project is the Sea Baby drone. The drone carries about 850 kilograms of explosives and is able to operate in stormy conditions. With the help of these drones Ukrainian forces are pushing the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation out of Crimea, allowing Ukraine to resume use of its ports for shipping.
In June, the Sea Baby drones were also used to attack the Kerch Bridge. The Kerch Bridge is still standing after a 2022 truck bomb attack and this year's strike, but is only partially open, Maliuk said.
"All SBU operations you hear about are exclusively our work and our unique technical development," Maliuk said. "These operations became possible, in particular, because we develop and implement our technical solutions."