Seizing Russians’ Property Would Make Fifth Amendment a War Casualty

Responding to the Russian action by seizing the property of Russian citizens may seem like a case of ‘turnabout is fair play,’ but it’s really a case of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right.’

Roman Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea soccer club, is one of Russia's highest-profile oligarchs and has been highlighted in the past for links to President Putin. AP/Martin Meissner, file

In the rush to condemn Russia for invading Ukraine, America and its European allies risk trampling property rights.

It’s ironic, because what we’re upset about, at least in part, is Russia taking property — Ukrainian land — that doesn’t belong to it. Responding to the Russian action by seizing the property of Russian citizens may seem like a case of “turnabout is fair play,” but it’s really a case of “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

It’d be one thing if the property being hungrily eyed by Western governments were the government of Russia’s, or President Putin’s. The language being thrown about in the press about superyachts, London townhouses, and Manhattan condominiums makes it clear, though, that American and European government authorities are being tempted to use Mr. Putin’s move as a grab for cash — in violation of American and British law.

The Magna Carta of 1215 states: “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.”

The “takings clause” of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says: “Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

These laws express a fundamental principle on which functioning capitalism depends. If the government can seize property arbitrarily at any moment, then why would anyone work hard, save and invest, or take risks to accumulate capital?

The Wall Street Journal quotes an anonymous “senior Biden administration official” warning Russians, “We’ll go after their yachts, their luxury apartments, their money, and their ability to send their kids to fancy colleges in the West.”

Once the Biden administration gets done doing this with Russian billionaires, it’ll next target other billionaires it can get away with stripping. It has nothing to do with Russian foreign policy. If eliminating a neighboring, democratically ruled country by force were the real issue, the Biden administration would be targeting Chinese billionaires following the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover of Hong Kong. But American elites are too deeply entwined with China to make that workable. Whose money would be taken? The sums invested with Hunter Biden?

American billionaires are more likely targets — the Biden-Wyden wealth tax seizing “unrealized capital gains” was another attempt to “go after their yachts, their luxury apartments, their money, and their ability to send their kids to fancy colleges,” without the veneer of foreign policy righteousness.

What the Biden administration and its left-wing Democratic base hates are not the Russians, but the yachts and luxury apartments. Russia’s action in Ukraine isn’t a reason for seizing property from billionaires, it’s a rationale, an excuse for something the Biden administration would like to do anyway.

It’s especially treacherous for American and British officials to declare hunting season on Russian businesses when American politicians have for years assiduously wooed those same businesses to open on American soil. 

An October 31, 2006, press release from Senator Schumer, Democrat of New York, declared that he “has long championed increasing bringing more non-OPEC oil to New York, and in September joined Russian President Vladimir Putin to open a new chain of gas stations in the metropolitan area that only sell gas made from Russian oil.”

A dispatch in Convenience Store News, a trade publication, reported, “Putin was joined by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to help inaugurate the first Russian-owned chain of petroleum stops in United States. Lukoil Oil Co., one of Russia’s largest oil producers, acquired Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. and its 1,300 stations in 2000.” The article paraphrased Mr. Schumer as saying “the Russian-drilled petroleum that will be sold at Lukoil stores would be a boon [to] the United States because it could help free America from dependence on oil from the OPEC nations, many of which are hostile Middle Eastern states.”

President Biden failed to deter a Russian invasion because, after Afghanistan, he and his team have zero credibility on national security policy. As a substitute for a serious foreign policy, we are getting a socialist redistribution domestic policy, applied to prosperous Russians as a target of opportunity: Take away the rich people’s stuff. 

Truman had George Kennan and containment. Reagan had Richard Pipes and rollback. Mr. Biden has a foreign policy grand strategy set by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders — confiscation.

The problem with this is the same as with allowing Russia to take Ukraine. What is next? Mr. Putin may have his eyes on the Baltics, or eastern Germany. As for Mr. Biden, the Russian yachts and luxury apartments are just the first move in a broader offensive against property rights.


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