By Pat Yanez. Published May 10
Calculating Russia’s Restitution to Ukrainians and the World
How do we stop rogue dictators from invading neighboring countries?
Well, hold them personally financially responsible, along with their relatives, friends, government officials, propaganda minions, and military and civilian enablers, for the material damage they cause. Revenues from these civil penalties should be allocated to rebuild the destroyed property.
As soon as an invader causes private or public property damage, the victim country should launch a high-level working group, a Restitution Commission, formed with distinguished national and foreign real estate assessors, architects, engineers, insurance experts, actuaries, and other relevant professionals to document with detailed pictures and videos each damaged property and assess its restitution cost at current market prices.
As demonstrated by Putin’s destruction of Ukraine’s private and public property, the damage increases every day. This destruction needs to be quantified daily to show to the aggressor and impress to the world the material magnitude of the crime. The Restitution Commission will update the restitution costs every day on its website.
Such a website, hosted and protected in an independent country, will post daily updates of a spreadsheet with each property damaged, city by city, province by province, with pictures and estimated restitution costs. The aggressors will see every day their increasing financial debt, which will also be considered during their war crimes tribunals.
While war crime tribunals focus on bringing to justice aggressors who have killed and hurt civilians, the Restitution Commission will focus on making the aggressor pay for the material destruction they have caused.
How useful will be a daily publication of restitution costs for which the aggressor is personally financially responsible? While sociopaths like Putin are blind to the human pain they cause with their military aggressions, they are known to keep close control of their hidden wealth. While they blatantly ignore mothers crying for their dead children, they will not ignore the Restitution Commission’s daily updates of their mounting personal financial obligations.
Let’s not forget that most Russians quietly admit that Putin is the world’s wealthiest man and that he is known for disciplining the oligarchs that hold his hidden wealth. He, his family, and his oligarchs own enough wealth to rebuild Ukraine and, an important task of the Restitution Commission should be finding and appropriating that hidden wealth.
If there are already organizations investigating war crimes, why do we need a separate, independent commission to assess restitution costs to the invaded country? For two compelling reasons: (1) war crimes tribunals take too long, often years, to deliver justice, and (2) the proposed Restitution Commission is an immediate tactic that, through its daily estimates of damages, delivers an unavoidable, tangible amount of personal liability.
Two immediate recommendations: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy do launch this Restitution Commission today. And, any other nation that fears that a neighboring country might become an invader, needs to plan this commission in advance so that it can be activated on the first day of the aggression.
Pat Yanez teaches international trade and economics in New York City.