We must wage all-out legal war against Putin’s enablers

For the sake of Ukraine, a campaign must begin in courts across the world.

24 July 2022 •

How can Ukraine be rebuilt after the war? A decision earlier this month by 40 countries to commit $750bn (£626bn) to pay for the reconstruction of its shattered infrastructure and economy offers hope. But history should lead Ukrainians to be sceptical.

A Marshall Plan-type of arrangement only works where there is peace and surrender, and Ukraine is still at war.

A negotiated peace will be a challenge. One cannot see Russia surrendering or agreeing to reparations, and how can Ukraine agree to concede one inch of their land to a Russian state that, against international law, rampaged in and took it? How can the international community allow this when it would set a precedent to incentivise others, notably China, to waltz in and annex a sovereign state without consequence?

The dilemma for the international community is that Ukraine unquestionably deserves reparations for what Russia has done. This cannot be whitewashed or ignored.

That is why the recent agreement is rightly chasing the dream of confiscating sanctioned Russian assets to meet the just cause of Ukrainian reparations. While I would love to see that bold precedent set, is it realistic? I wish it were, but there are three huge obstacles in the way.

Firstly, history shows us that when it comes to peace, the cognoscenti will shy away from aggressive reparations which could lead to a repeat of the tragic repercussions after the Allies sought to punish Germany at the Versailles Treaty in 1919.

Secondly, any such reparations scheme will be focused on state and civil society reconstruction, while the reparations due to the ordinary citizen and high street shops will be diluted and become no more than token compensation. And so this will not enable a grassroots rebuilding of Ukraine post-conflict.

Thirdly, while it feels good to confiscate a rogue state’s assets, wise heads in the international community will inevitably fear opening the floodgates. What about their own assets overseas – and what about rogue nations confiscating them at a whim? That is precisely why international sanction regimes are focused on freezing assets, for them to be returned when the issue is rectified.

As hard as it may be to swallow in this instance, maintaining the smooth running of the world order is more important to some than just dealing with the current fly in the ointment, however big and ugly that Russian fly is.

However, I believe there is an alternative solution to meet these obstacles, comply with international law, and provide justice and reparations to Ukraine. It is entirely achievable, but it takes some effort, and political will.

Mass private and state legal compensation actions must be taken around the world in any legitimate forum and jurisdiction that will enable such claims. 

Legal judgments, recognised internationally, have legal precedent to be enforced against sanctioned and non-sanctioned assets of both the Russian Federation and Russian aggressors; those that have facilitated the war, whether they be private military companies like the Wagner Group, sanctions busters, or banks that have facilitated this process.

As with international precedent, such as the Lockerbie victims’ cases, or the US Libyan Claims Resolution Act concerning victims of Gaddafi, such similar actions can legitimately draw down on Russian state and aggressor assets.  

The $750bn declaration was right in sentiment, but signatories were too narrow and simplistic in its thinking regarding implementation.

They would do well to foster and support mass legal claims around the world to produce judgments, recognised in the context of international law, which can be satisfied against sanctioned assets without fear of floodgates opening.

The requirement of a legitimate judicial process judgment would help to prevent rogue regimes from running amok.
A private lawfare programme – bringing compensation cases for the Ukrainian state, its people and their businesses, and seeking hundreds of billions of reparations against Russia – can be actioned for the same cost as just a few battle tanks.

The international community must supply every single weapon the Ukrainians need to not just fight for their homeland, but also for the rule of law and democracy.

As international military aid floods into Ukraine, those supportive of the Ukrainian cause should also consider facilitating and supplying the small cost of funding the Ukrainian people to bring private legal actions which will provide the international community with a solid legitimate means to confiscate sanctioned assets for the victims of this war. 

This would allow the delegates from the 40 countries to deliver on its promises to Ukraine. 

Such a private lawfare programme – already designed by a team of international lawyers in the Ukraine Justice Alliance – is currently in place. It just requires funding.


Jason McCue is Senior Partner at McCue Jury & Partners and Co-Founder of the Ukraine Justice Alliance

4 comments

  1. A well thought-out article that offers some practical solutions.
    The writer thankfully demonstrates that not all lawyers are amoral, greedy scuzzballs like the ones that work for Abramovich.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Great sentiment and I think it’s a great plan but the cynical part of me doesn’t see it happening. “Legitimate” “judicial” are not in Russia’s lexicon for what, over three hundred years? It will be long after my children’s generation where Russians can, if ever, become normal peace loving people rather then the pariah of humanity that they have become. Based on their actions, Russians are the stain on humanity. Not saying all Russians are evil, but Edmond Burke said it… “evil succeeds when good men do nothing.” So, where are the good men of Russia? Hell I would have expected Russian moms to take up arms against the Kremlin but what do we see, they’re more interested in cars then recovering their dead son’s bodies. Kinda says it all. It’s a sad commentary about a horrific group of people (being generous in calling them people).

    Liked by 4 people

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