Russia blasts US on frozen assets, missiles as Ukraine bombardment persists

Moscow warns of retaliation as war in Ukraine causes relations with the West to deteriorate.

The Russian flag flies outside the Embassy of Russia in Washington
Russia's flag flies outside its embassy in Washington, DC. Kremlin officials have warned they could sever relations with the United States. [File: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky]

Russia has warned that it will react robustly to Western moves to seize its assets or deploy missiles.

Moscow could sever diplomatic relations with the United States should it confiscate Russian assets frozen under sanctions, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Friday. Officials also said the Kremlin would respond to the deployment of missiles in Europe or Asia, even as Ukraine reported that Russia had unleashed another barrage of attack drones overnight.

Ryabkov threatened that Moscow could cut diplomatic ties with Washington should it hand frozen Russian assets to Kyiv, which is desperate for funds, according to the Russian state news agency Interfax.

Western countries are discussing the confiscation of more than $1bn in Russian assets frozen due to sanctions over the war in Ukraine.

The US “must not act under an illusion … that Russia is clinging with both hands to diplomatic relations with that country”, the official said.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later said at a media briefing that countries who seize Russian assets would never be left in peace and Russia would look at what Western assets it could seize in retaliation.

Some officials in US political circles have suggested that $300bn of funds from Russian Central Bank reserves frozen in February 2022 to put pressure on Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine be handed to Kyiv.

Peskov said any such seizure would deal a serious blow to the international financial system and Russia would defend its rights in the courts and through other means.

On Thursday, Russia promised to respond in kind should the European Union go ahead with a plan to ring-fence profits generated from frozen assets and hand them to Ukraine.

Prosecutors in Germany said this week that they were applying to confiscate more than 720 million euros ($790m) from the Frankfurt bank account of a Russian financial institution.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called German leaders “a thieving lot” that have been taking lessons from Washington.

“They used to be thieving in the political sense – breaking agreements, cheating someone – but now they are thieving in the direct sense,” he said.

President Vladimir Putin this week ordered two European concerns, Wintershall Dea and OMV, be stripped of multibillion-dollar stakes in gas projects in the Russian Arctic.

‘War machine’

The West is seeking to tighten its sanctions against Russia as it continues to pummel Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden will sign an executive order allowing Washington to impose sanctions on financial institutions that help Russia evade sanctions, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday.

The measure will also allow Washington to ban products originating in Russia but processed in third countries, such as seafood and diamonds, Yellen said in a statement.

“Today we are taking steps to level new and powerful tools against Russia’s war machine,” Yellen said. “And we will not hesitate to use the new tools provided by this authority to take decisive and surgical action against financial institutions that facilitate the supply of Russia’s war machine.”

Russia’s concerns extend beyond the business and financial sectors. Ryabkov also threatened that Russia is ready to swiftly respond in kind to any deployment by the US of short- and medium-range missiles in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Moscow is closely tracking Washington’s missile development and potential deployments and was ready to swiftly take the necessary political decisions to respond in kind, he stated.

The official also lashed out at the US over problems regarding efforts to organise a prisoner swap, accusing Washington of leaking details of the “sensitive negotiations”.

The US said this month that Russia had rejected proposals for the release of former US marine Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

A firefighter working at the site of a warehouse damaged in a Russian drone attack. He is scrambling over debris.
Firefighters work at the site of a warehouse damaged during a Russian drone strike in the Kyiv region of Ukraine in an image released on December 21, 2023 [Press service of the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Kyiv region/Handout via Reuters]

Attack drones

Russian forces continued large-scale attacks against infrastructure and civilian sites in Ukraine overnight into Friday.

Kyiv’s air force said on social media that it had shot down 24 of 28 Shahed attack drones launched from Russia.

It was the sixth such attack on the Ukrainian capital so far in December and part of a larger drone swarm that also targeted other parts of central, southern and western Ukraine, the air force said.

Air raid sirens were heard in Kyiv late on Thursday, and residents heard explosions. City hall initially said air defences were in action and called on people to stay in shelters.

Russian missiles and drones have begun to frequently target the Ukrainian capital although they are usually shot down by air defence systems.

“A residential building in Kyiv hit by a Shahed,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Telegram.

That attack affected the city’s Solomianskyi district, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram, reporting “flames on the upper floors” of the building. One man was hospitalised while another person was treated at the scene, he said.

Kyiv’s military administration published photos on social media of apartment buildings with windows blown out, saying debris from a downed drone had caused the damage rather than a strike.

Klitschko also said debris from another downed drone fell on a house in the Darnytskyi district in eastern Kyiv.

In the Holosiivskyi district in the city’s south, a piece of shrapnel from a downed drone fell on a high-rise building without causing any casualties, the military administration said on Telegram.

Source: News Agencies