The world has a choice: act decisively now or engage in a bigger conflict with Russia | Vladyslav Vlasiuk

Last week was the latest grim act in Russia’s war crimes epic.

Rockets rained haphazardly on civilian areas in Ukraine two days after a massive explosion near a symbolic bridge built to connect the annexed Crimean peninsula to Russia.

In Zaporizhzhya in the southeast, 12 Russian missiles partially destroyed a nine-storey tower and razed five other residential buildings. Kateryna Ivanova and her family were forced to run to the bathroom because their apartment was full of smoke. After she managed to escape to the street, Kateryna said she was met by a neighbor who screamed that her husband was dead.

Another resident, Lyudmyla, shared how she rushed to wake her children and get them to safety after an explosion completely destroyed the door of her house. Kateryna and Lyudmyla are the lucky ones. Dozens of innocent civilians were killed in the rocket attacks that ranged from Lviv in the west to Kharkov in the east.

The Russians did not think of shelling a children’s playground in Shevchenko Park, in the center of Kiev. An exploding rocket left a gaping hole in the ground. Pieces of twisted metal were scattered just a few feet from the brightly colored jungle gym and roundabout.

War crimes take place every day 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 serious damage on Russia’s economy with targeted sanctions.

But the impact has not been decisive. We need to do more. We can defeat Russia now with full sanctions and increased military support to Ukraine, or prepare to defeat them later in a bigger war – at a much greater cost to the global economy and democracies worldwide.

One possible response would be to exclude Russia from the Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF), an intergovernmental organization that acts as the global watchdog for money laundering and terrorist financing. Today, all 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 calls on the FATF to recognize that Russia has committed widespread violations of its standards and should be excluded from the organization.

Such a decision would have real consequences and put pressure on the Kremlin to stop 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 a reliable financial center where their money is protected. Blacklisting Russia would also limit its ability to evade sanctions, as Russian companies have structured transactions through unsanctioned Russian banks. Once Russia is excluded, this option will disappear.

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 the FATF in 2020, exports of goods and services fell by about 30%.

We’re not asking the FATF to brawl here. A number of international institutions have ousted Russia as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, including the Council of Europe. Membership of the UN Human Rights Council has also been suspended.

The Russian Federation has been guilty of aggression, crimes against humanity, war crimes and possibly genocide. Financing these activities comes at the expense of state budgets. Russia spends $900 million a day on the war with Ukraine.

Given the central role of the FATF in the fight against international financial crime, it should take a more proactive stance on Russia’s flagrant violations of international law in order to enhance its global credibility.

Even the UN General Assembly — much criticized 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, declaring that territorial claims of Moscow “not valid 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 must realize that Russian leadership only understands power. The more aggressive and comprehensive the response, the faster this war will end.

And to be clear, it is Russia that must end this war. In recent weeks, Ukraine has noted that certain interests are increasingly calling for peace. Ukraine seeks peace. Ukraine longs for peace. But Ukraine will never succumb to peace by force.

If you need proof of this, look no further than the children’s playground in Kiev that was 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 sung in rows and scribbled on public buildings all over Ukraine, including this line from “The Testament”: “Oh bury me, then arise; And break your heavy chains; And water with the blood of the tyrants; The freedom you have been given.”

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