Zelensky Adviser Accuses JPMorgan, HSBC of 'War Crimes' Over Russian Ties

Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, accused financial institutions such as JPMorgan, HSBC, and Citigroup of "war crimes" this week over their ties to Russian oil.

Many companies scaled back or ceased operations in Russia after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in late February. The public has widely viewed the invasion as lacking a justification while Western governments have issued harsh sanctions against the Russian economy.

However, months later, some Western financial institutions still have ties to Russian oil companies. Ustenko, in an interview with the Financial Times published on Friday, said these companies are "prolonging" the war by providing credit to these companies, which have been targeted by Western sanctions.

Zelensky adviser Ustenko accuses "war crimes"
JPMorgan was among the companies Oleg Ustenko, economic adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, accused of “war crimes” over ties to the Russian economy. Above, the JPMorgan offices are seen in March 2018 in New York City. Michael Nagle/Getty Images

The economic adviser wrote letters to Jamie Dimon and Noel Quinn, CEOs of JPMorgan and HSBC respectively, urging them to stop financing companies that trade Russian oil and to sell their shares in Gazprom and Rosneft, which are Kremlin-supported oil companies, according to the Financial Times.

"In my view they are committing war crimes because they are helping the Putin regime in this specific way and they are supporting the regime," Ustenko said, adding that once the war eventually ends, Ukraine is planning to sue the banks at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which could prosecute individuals from the banks.

Ustenko named specific issues with each company that is viewed as problematic by Ukrainian authorities. He pointed to HSBC's shares in Gazprom and Rosneft, Citigroup allegedly providing credit facilities to Lukoil and Vitol, and JPMorgan allegedly extending credit lines to Vitol, the Financial Times reported.

He also accused JPMorgan analysts of "scaremongering" for publishing a report arguing that imposing a price cap on Russian oil could cause global oil prices to climb to $380 per barrel. United States officials, on the other hand, have argued the opposite—that failing to adopt a price cap could cause oil prices to increase, Reuters reported Monday.

Financial institutions were among the companies to announce plans to scale back operations in Russia after Putin launched the war. As they did so, Western governments announced they would issue sanctions against Russia, specifically targeting Russian oil, which experts have said continue to help Russia finance the war.

JPMorgan, in a statement to Newsweek, noted its role in implementing Western sanctions on Russia.

"Managing these evolving sanctions has been an enormous undertaking for all global financial institutions, who have quickly and diligently implemented multilateral sanctions on Russia's major banks, its Central Bank, companies and individuals," the statement said. "We support and comply with the Western world's policies and sanctions against Russia."

Citigroup also announced in March that it would be reducing operations in Russia, though the company noted it would "take time" to fully leave the country "due to the nature of banking and financial services operations."

Meanwhile, HSBC said in March it would no longer accept any new business or customers in Russia.

"Our business there is focused on supporting multinational corporate clients, headquartered outside Russia, with activities such as cash management and trade for which we are entrusted with client funds. We have a responsibility to assist our international clients with banking support, as they make and implement decisions on their operations in Russia over the coming weeks," the company said in a statement.

Newsweek reached out to spokespersons for Citigroup and HSBC for further comment.

Update 07/17/2022 9:08 a.m. ET: This story was updated with statement from JPMorgan.