By Marco Levytsky
We commend the Government of Canada for seizing the Russian-registered cargo aircraft that has been grounded at Toronto Pearson Airport for more than a year. The Government of Canada will manage it in accordance with federal legislation and work with the Government of Ukraine on options to redistribute this asset to compensate victims of human rights abuses, restore international peace and security, or rebuild Ukraine.
The targeted Russian aircraft, an Antonov 124, is believed to be owned by a subsidiary of Volga-Dnepr Airlines LLC and Volga-Dnepr Group, two entities against which Canada recently imposed sanctions due to their complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The seizure of the asset was made possible by the new asset seizure and forfeiture authorities under Canada’s autonomous sanctions regimes put forward in Budget 2022.
According to Global Affairs Canada, this is the first physical asset seized by the Government of Canada under this regime, and second overall seized and restrained under the Special Economic Measures Act.
We are also pleased that the Government is referring to this action as a “first step”, even though it has taken over a year since that plane was first grounded. Because this must just be the beginning of a concerted effort – not only by Canada – but of all our allies in the Free World to start confiscating Russian assets abroad. There will undoubtedly be legal challenges to such seizures. That’s what happens in countries which – unlike Russia – operate under the rule of law. But that only underscores the urgency of such a concerted action.
There is an ongoing effort, undertaken jointly by the government of Ukraine, the World Bank, and the European Commission and supported by other partners, to take stock of Ukraine’s damage and losses from the war – but just as importantly to assess the scale of economic and social needs for Ukraine’s survival during the war and its recovery afterward. It’s called the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, and on March 23 it published its most recent report which estimated that the cost of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine has grown to US$411 billion — 2.6 times the country’s estimated 2022 GDP. And this estimate only covers the one-year period from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, to the first anniversary of the war on February 24, 2023. No one knows how long this war will last. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has no intention of backing down. For him losing face would be fatal. And from Ukraine’s point of view, there can be no territorial concessions that would reward Russia for its unprovoked aggression and the enormous scope of the war crimes that have been committed. The cost of rebuilding Ukraine will easily top one trillion US dollars. Most likely it will reach multiple trillions.
So, who’s going to pay for all this? Ukraine has been horrendously devastated by Russia’s genocidal war. Its economy is in shambles. Millions have lost their homes, critical infrastructure has been destroyed, and farmland flooded. There is no way that beleaguered country can afford to cover the cost of reconstruction on its own. Canada and other allies have been providing much military, humanitarian and economic aid. They will undoubtedly help out. But we already see Ukraine fatigue setting in and we hear voices that question how much money is being spent to support Ukraine. This is especially true among a certain segment of the US Republican Party.
The answer to who must pay is obviously the party that is responsible for this carnage. And that is Russia. But how do you make Russia pay? Germany was forced to pay reparations for both World War I and World War II. But that’s because the country was defeated in war. The spectre of a nuclear holocaust makes World War II unthinkable.
Sanctions are a viable lever. There will undoubtedly be calls to end the sanctions once this war is over. That will mean business as usual with the Russian war criminals while innocent Ukrainians suffer utter deprivation from the destruction these very criminals inflicted. No, sanctions must remain as a lever to make Russia pay for the damage they created and lifted only when Ukraine obtains just compensation from Moscow.
But the best way remains the confiscation of all Russian assets abroad so that they can be used to help both Ukraine’s defense of its sovereign territory and the massive reconstruction that will be needed to overcome the devastation inflicted upon the innocent freedom-loving people of Ukraine by the rapacious Muscovite regime.
Although the seizure of the Russian cargo plane is a good first step, it is only a drop in the bucket when one considers the breadth and scope of Russian assets abroad. Confiscating Russian assets would be much easier if more countries were to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. And this is where the Government of Canada can demonstrate that when it says the seizure of the Russian AN-124 is a “first step”, it isn’t just blowing in the wind. To date, the only countries that have designated Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism are Czechia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, and Ukraine. Neither Canada, the United States and major European powers have done so. But such a designation is imperative if a concerted campaign to confiscate Russian assets abroad is to be successful. And such a campaign must be successful if Ukraine is to be lifted from the utter devastation inflicted by the Russian Federation. And this is where Canada can lead by example.