Russian Parliament Approves Bill For Government To Seize Western Assets In Response To Sanctions

08/10/2014 15:26 BST | Updated 08/10/2014 15:59 BST
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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 01: The first meeting of the Russian Federation Council's fall session in the upper house of the Russian parliament in Moscow, Russia on October 01, 2014. (Photo by Nikita Shvetsov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russia's parliament has given preliminary approval to a bill granting compensation to those affected by Western sanctions and allowing the government to seize the assets in Russia of countries that have imposed the penalties.

In an unusually divisive vote on Wednesday, the main Kremlin-backed party struggled to win over the typically compliant members of Russia's token opposition, who were almost unanimously against the bill in a 233 to 202 vote. The law must be voted on two more times and can be amended before its final approval.

The law, which would allow individuals affected by property seizures outside Russia to be compensated from the state budget, was first proposed to parliament in April, but later withdrawn after it was blasted in a government memo for contradicting both international and Russian law.

The government's dramatic about-face and the bill's re-introduction to parliament in September came just one day after Italian authorities seized approximately $40 million-worth of property owned by Russian businessman and longtime Putin ally, Arkady Rotenberg.

If the bill is ultimately approved, it would allow any individuals targeted by property or asset seizures abroad to seek compensation from the Russian budget. It also allows Moscow to seize property of any foreign citizens who instigate such cases against Russian individuals abroad. In the absence of such property, Russia may seize state property of that country, even if protected by diplomatic immunity.

The bill attracted an unusual amount of criticism from the opposition, whose lawmakers typically vote unanimously alongside the dominant United Russia party, over the perceived unfairness in the compensation scheme. Authors of the bill even delayed the vote, which was originally slated for Tuesday, in what appeared to be an effort to win over the opposition.

"It turns out that the property rights of certain individuals, particularly those who are close (to power), are exceptionally more important than the property rights of millions," communist legislator Nikolai Kolomeitsev said during a speech. Along with leaders of Russia's other three opposition parties, he said his faction would not vote for such an "amoral" law.

In comments to parliament earlier in the day, Russian Economic Development Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said the law was counterproductive because it would help insure Russians' property abroad and thereby "encourage capital flight from the country."