Firms Still Trading With Russia Face Future Legal Action: Zelensky Adviser

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky's top economic adviser has condemned European countries still purchasing Russian gas and oil, claiming those involved, including lawyers and bankers for oligarchs, are aiding war crimes.

Oleg Ustenko called the lack of an immediate embargo on Russian imports by western economies "unacceptable" in an exclusive interview with the Observer.

"If Russians are committing war crimes, even genocide, whoever is supplying Russia with this bloody money is making the same war crime," said Ustenko in remarks published at theguardian.com.

He vowed that firms trading with Russia would face future legal action.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
The Ukrainian president's top economic adviser has spoken out against European countries still purchasing Russian gas and oil. Above, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinsky takes questions at a press conference on April 23, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES)

"We know the name of the ship, the flag, the name of the captain, the volume of oil, we know how much money was paid for that oil, the port of destination, the company who sold the insurance," Ustenko said. "We are going to work with this information. We have other things to do which are much more urgent now, but we are watching everybody who is doing that.

"Our belief is that if companies are making war crimes, we are going to prosecute and sue all these people. Maybe in a year, maybe in 10 years, but we are going to find these people."

Ustenko estimated proceeds from Russian sales of oil and gas at $1.4 billion a day and warned those assisting Russia in continued sales would face future legal action, noting Kyiv is monitoring firms trading with Russia and would sue involved commodity traders and insurers.

The economic adviser also called for measures such as the sale of frozen assets in a plea for tougher international sanctions.

"People in Europe ... believe that they can help us, that they're our great friends, and indeed they are," Ustenko said. "But they do not understand that by supplying this money to Putin, they are funding his military machine. They're using it for killing us, for doing the terrible things they did in Bucha and in other places."

Ustenko addressed the announcement last week that Berlin, according to German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, would stop importing Russian oil by the end of 2022 and would eliminate gas after by noting the action wasn't swift or extensive enough.

"The message ... was completely unacceptable, that Germans still agree to pay for killing our people," he said.

Ustenko said oil imports could be halted overnight but that it would be harder to wean Europe off gas. He suggested proceeds go into escrow for Russian suppliers to access after the war's end.

In addition, Ustenko called out insurers, global commodity trading houses, lawyers and bankers serving oligarchs aligned with the Kremlin.

"Of course we're receiving great support but it can never be enough. Tankers lifting Russian oil have insurance provided from London," he said. "We don't understand and we don't want to see how many Ukrainians must be killed [before something is done]. It troubles me that in terms of Europe, we're always talking about money. In Ukraine we're talking about human life."

Lloyd's of London, described by the company as the "world's leading insurance market," said through a spokesperson it "supports and remains focused on the delivery of a global sanctions regime against the Russian state, which send an important message that Russia's invasion of a peaceful country is unacceptable."

Four global commodity traders still buying and selling cargoes of Russian oil, Trafigura, Glencore, Vitol and Gunvor, told the Observer they condemn the invasion and won't sign new deals, but are legally bound to existing contracts.

Ustenko pleaded in personal letters to chief officials with major traders, asking them to halt business with Russia, he said. While some did not respond, others responses included broken promises to cut ties.

Bankers and lawyers working for Russian oligarchs should imagine how it would feel if their families were suffering as those in Ukraine.

"Are you going to accept that? If yes, then do nothing for us. If you think that it's immoral, then act immediately. Even if your government does not understand, you have the power."

Regarding Ukraine's defense and postwar reconstruction, he believes it should be funded by seizing the frozen assets of billionaire oligarchs subject to sanctions along with those of the Russian central bank.

"I'm talking about football clubs, I'm talking about nice apartments, houses, I'm talking about other properties in the UK," he said.