Europe agrees to a plan to limit the cost of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, with a focus on future compensation

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) More than 40 countries agreed on Wednesday to create a system to tally damages Russia has inflicted on Ukraine in hopes of securing reparations, adding to international legal challenges for the Kremlin.

The damage registry, which will allow Ukrainian war victims to catalog the damage they suffered, has found significant support among the 46-nation Council of Europe summit in Iceland. Participants also discussed the details of a possible future court where Russia would face charges of waging war.

“This Reykjavík summit clearly shows that Putin failed in his calculations – he wanted to divide Europe and achieved the opposite,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “More than ever before, we stand together in Europe.”

While the leaders were at a seaside retreat in the remote island nation for two days, the United Nations Supreme Court announced it would hold hearings next month in a case between Russia and Ukraine. Kiev claims that Moscow discriminates against minorities in occupied Crimea and funds terrorism in the region.

But even if Ukraine wins the Hague-based International Court of Justice, the ruling will not make the millions of Ukrainians whose homes and lives have been torn apart by conflict.

In theory, victims might have better luck in the Council of Europe’s own court, the European Court of Human Rights, where Moscow faces thousands of complaints of human rights abuses, including three from Ukraine. The Strasbourg-based court can order countries to pay damages, but Russia’s neighbor Georgia has not yet been able to collect compensation for damages caused by Moscow when it invaded in 2008.

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However, Russia was kicked out of the council last year, following the massive invasion of Ukraine. And since 2015, it has passed a law allowing it to overturn rulings by the European Court of Human Rights.

Neither the court nor the council now has any channel of communication with the Russian authorities.

The registry of damages is seen as a first step towards justice in Ukraine. “Accountability is one of the critical topics,” Maria Bejenovic Boric, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, told the Associated Press in an interview.

Compiling a comprehensive record of the destruction might be a first step: it is not clear what might follow. The Council of Europe has made it clear that it will not assess the credibility of any claims, nor will it fund compensation payments. These decisions will be left to other potential future institutions to determine.

No wonder Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, addressing the summit from Kiev, reiterated his country’s desire for such a tribunal precisely to try Russian aggression. In addition to military aid, another topic at the conference, he said his country needed “100% justice, as without justice there will be no reliable peace.”

While international institutions may struggle to overcome legal hurdles to accountability, a group of Amsterdam squatters has cut through red tape — and locks the $3.5 million Amsterdam home belonging to a sanctioned Russian oligarch.

A court in a Dutch city ruled on Wednesday that an anarchist group, which seized the home of Russian tech billionaire Arkady Voloz in October, can stay in the five-story 19th-century mansion as long as they do not disturb the neighbours.

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