Last week saw the latest grim act in Russia’s war crimes epic.
Missiles rained down indiscriminately on civilian areas across Ukraine two days after a massive explosion at a symbolic bridge built to link the annexed Crimean peninsula to Russia.
In Zaporizhzhia in the south-east, 12 Russian rockets partially destroyed a nine-storey tower, and leveled five other residential buildings. Kateryna Ivanova and her family were forced to run to the bathroom as their apartment filled with smoke. After managing to escape to the street, Kateryna said she was met by a neighbor who screamed that her husband was dead.
Another resident, Lyudmyla, told how she rushed to wake her children and move them to safety after a blast completely destroyed the door to her home. Kateryna and Lyudmyla are the lucky ones. Dozens of innocent civilians were killed in the missile strikes that ranged from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east.
The Russians thought nothing of shelling a children’s playground in Shevchenko park, central Kyiv. One exploding missile left a gaping hole in the ground. Bits of twisted metal were left scattered just a few feet from the brightly painted climbing frame and roundabout.
War crimes are happening on a daily basis in Ukraine. Our allies must ensure that these gross violations of human rights and international law do not go unpunished.
Since the illegal invasion in February, the world’s most powerful democracies have come together to inflict severe damage on the Russian economy with the use of targeted sanctions.
But the impact has not been decisive. We need to do more. We can either defeat Russia now with full-scale sanctions and stepped-up military support to Ukraine, or prepare to defeat them in a larger war later – far greater cost to the global economy and democracies worldwide.
One potential response would be to exclude Russia from the Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF), an intergovernmental organization that acts as the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog. Today, all the FATF members and observer organizations – including the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Bank, Interpol and the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units – will gather for a plenary meeting in Paris. Ukraine is calling on the FATF to recognize that Russia has committed wholesale breaches of its standards, and should be excluded from the organisation.
Such a decision would have real-world consequences and put pressure on the Kremlin to halt its senseless war.
Russia’s exclusion from the FATF would send a clear signal to companies and financial institutions around the world that Russia is no longer considered as a reliable financial center where their funds will be protected. Blacklisting Russia would also limit its ability to evade sanctions, as Russian companies have been structuring transactions through Russian banks that have not been sanctioned. Once Russia is excluded, this option will fall away.
Russia’s trade with the rest of the world would also be affected as it would be more difficult to receive export and import payments. After Iran was blacklisted by FATF in 2020, its exports of goods and services fell by about 30%.
We are not asking the FATF to go out on a limb here. A number of international institutions have expelled Russia as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, including the Council of Europe. Its membership of the UN Human Rights Council has also been suspended.
The Russian Federation has committed crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes and, potentially, genocide. The financing of these activities are carried out at the expense of its state budgets. Russia is spending US$900ma day on the war with Ukraine.
Given the central role of the FATF in tackling international financial crime, it should take a more proactive stance on Russia’s flagrant violations of international law in order to cement its global credibility.
Even the UN general assembly – much criticised in recent years for a lack of global influence – voted overwhelmingly last week to condemn Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four provinces in Ukraine, and declare that Moscow’s territorial claims “have no validity under international law” . Only Russia and four other countries – Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and Belarus – voted against the resolution, while 143 countries voted yes.
The FATF should realize that Russian leadership only understands power. The more aggressive and comprehensive the response, the quicker this war will end.
And to be clear, it is Russia that needs to end this war. Over the past few weeks, Ukraine has noted certain interests making increasing calls for peace. Ukraine seeks peace. Ukraine longs for peace. But Ukraine will never succumb to peace by coercion.
If you need evidence of this, look no further than the children’s playground in Kyiv destroyed by Russian missiles last week. It is named after Ukraine’s national poet, Taras Shevchenko, a former serf who fought against Tsarist Russian subjugation in the 19th century. His works of resistance are now being sung in queues and scrawled on public buildings across Ukraine, including this line from “The Testament”: “Oh bury me, then rise ye up; And break your heavy chains; And water with the tyrants’ blood; The freedom you have gained.”
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