Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says use of Russian assets from Ukraine is not 'theft' despite Putin's claims

Yellen said there's "no legal issue" with the loan backed by Russian assets.

June 16, 2024, 10:14 AM

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen pushed back against claims from Russian President Vladimir Putin that world leaders were stealing money from Russia by agreeing to loan Ukraine $50 billion using the profit from the frozen Russian assets.

"Right after Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, the United States and our global coalition partners decided to freeze to impound Russian sovereign assets in our jurisdiction, and that amounted to around $280 billion and of that the vast majority, around $200 billion are sitting in a Belgian financial institution where they are generating income that does not belong to Russia," Yellen said in an exclusive interview on ABC News' "This Week."

World leaders said the money would help Ukraine rebuild and stave off continued Russian offensives.

After the announcement from the G7 conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the "theft" of Russian assets "will not go unpunished." Yellen pushed back on that, telling co-anchor Jon Karl "[the assets have] been impounded, the investments that Russia had have matured, so Russia's funds are sitting in cash. But they're generating income for the institution, which Russia has no claim on."

She added, "So there's no legal issue here."

Yellen also said that she sees this as "a battle of wills with Putin."

"Putin, I think, believes that our coalition will crumble in the sense we won't go on providing Ukraine with the resources that they need to fight this war and to keep their economy running," Yellen said. "And this is a way of showing that we have the capacity and the will to do so."

Karl also asked Yellen about the state of the U.S. economy. Recent data Inflation is cooling but recent polls still show that voters are wary about the economy under President Joe Biden ahead of November's election.

Yellen noted that the COVID-19 pandemic "compounded" growing economic pressures on American families.

"I think the pandemic was a profoundly difficult time. But in the years leading up to the pandemic, Americans were ... just struggling with things like health care costs, the cost of energy, education costs, childcare costs," Yellen told Karl.

She added that the administration is focused on bringing costs down.

"It is true that over the last three years, there's been a significant increase in the price level," she said. "Americans see that and mainly it comes on top of concerns about cost, that we're making life very difficult."

Yellen did note that wages for Americans have gone up, arguing that many Americans are "somewhat better off."

Karl also pressed Yellen about former President Donald Trump's campaign promise to end the federal income tax and increase tariffs on all imported goods.

These proposals would "make life unaffordable for working class Americans ... and harm American businesses," Yellen replied.