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An Unconventional Proposal: Using Russian Reserves for Ukraine’s Recovery

In a bold opinion piece recently published, a former World Bank president, Robert Zoellick, has voiced strong support for redirecting Russia’s frozen foreign reserves to aid Ukraine. This suggestion comes amidst ongoing discussions on how best to support Ukraine following the 2022 invasion by Russia.

More than $300 billion in Russian currency reserves were frozen as part of international sanctions. While these funds have remained untouched so far, the debate on their potential use has been ignited by fluctuating Western financial support for Kyiv. Zoellick argues that the concerns about transferring these reserves are exaggerated and that such a move would not pose a real threat to international financial stability.

According to Zoellick, using Russia’s assets to support Ukraine would be an act of “elegant justice.” He believes that this would send a clear message to Moscow that its war efforts cannot outlast Kyiv’s resilience.

Critics of this proposal have warned that seizing these reserves could lead to a loss of confidence in holding reserves in dollars, potentially accelerating a shift towards de-dollarization. However, Zoellick counters this by saying that Western unity in this decision would leave few realistic alternatives for disgruntled states. He points out that while central banks could shift to gold or other currencies, these do not offer the same liquidity or global reach as the US dollar.

The former World Bank chief also discusses the economic pragmatism of countries like China in holding dollars and euros, emphasizing that their decisions are driven by trade surpluses and not political alliances. He suggests that reallocating these reserves for Ukraine’s reconstruction could also encourage an earlier settlement with Russia, though he acknowledges the possibility of some assets being offered back to Russia in exchange for genuine peace.

This perspective echoes similar sentiments expressed by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and current Secretary Janet Yellen, who have both suggested the use of frozen Russian assets to support Ukraine.

Zoellick concludes that if the seizure of reserves can deter countries from attempting to conquer and annex their neighbors due to the risk of losing access to their global reserves, this would be a positive outcome.

For investors and entrepreneurs, this situation illustrates the complex interplay between global finance, geopolitics, and ethics. It raises important questions about the role of economic measures in international conflicts and the potential precedents such actions might set. As the global community continues to navigate these challenging waters, the decisions made could have far-reaching implications for the international financial system and the norms governing state behavior.