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Moscow to end relations with US if assets seized: TASS

Any possible seizure of Russian assets by the United States will completely destroy Moscow’s bilateral relations with Washington, Russia’s TASS news agency reported, quoting the head of the North American Department at the Russian foreign ministry as saying on Saturday.

The statement came as the latest chapter of deteriorating Russian-US relations, which had been significantly accelerated by Moscow’s brutal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Russia has sent thousands of troops into Ukraine in what it calls a “special military operation”.

“We warn the Americans of the detrimental consequences of such actions that will permanently damage bilateral relations, which is neither in their nor in our interests,” Alexander Darchiev, the head of the North American Department at the Russian foreign ministry, told TASS in an interview, not specifying the assets he was referring to.

Assets at the value of USD 30 bn held by wealthy individuals with ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin have been frozen by the US and its European allies. The said assets comprise yachts, helicopters, real estate, art and more, according to the Biden administration.

The US Department of Justice was seeking broader authority from Congress to seize Russian oligarchs’ assets as a means to pressure Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, Reuters reported citing a prosecutor as saying in July.

Mr Darchiev went on to say that Russia warned the US that diplomatic ties would be badly damaged and could even be severed if Russia was declared a state sponsor of terrorism.

Turning to the situation in Ukraine, Mr Darchiev said that the US influence on Kyiv had increased to the degree that “Americans are increasingly becoming more and more a direct party in the conflict”.

Working on prisoner swap deal

His statement is reflected in the current discussions on the Washington-Moscow line over a potential prisoner swap. Up for the exchange are Viktor Bout, a Russian in US custody referred to by American prosecutors as one of the world’s most prolific arms dealers, for US basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan currently held captive in Russia. As revealed by the Russian official, the swap is being discussed, TASS reported.

Mr Bout was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2012 on charges that he schemed to illegally sell millions of dollars in weapons.

Ms Griner spoke at her trial in late July. She has been detained in Russia on drug possession charges since February. The WNBA All-Star was taken into custody at an airport near Moscow when security found cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in Russia. She testified she did not know how the cartridges got into her luggage but that she did use marijuana as a medically prescribed treatment for pain.

Mr Whelan is a corporate security executive convicted of espionage in 2020, an assertion he and his family deny. He is serving a 16-year prison sentence after being caught in Russia while arriving in the country to attend a wedding.

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine was met with unprecedented economic, financial and diplomatic sanctions from the West, including freezing around half of Russia’s gold and foreign exchange reserves which stood near USD 640 bn before February 24.

Top Western officials, including Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have suggested seizing the frozen reserves to help fund the future reconstruction of Ukraine.

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