Russia warns West: Don't take your assets in our country for granted

global-woSt. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF)
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia hinted on Wednesday that it had not dropped the idea of seizing Western-owned assets and businesses in the country, as a top official sharply criticised governments that have hit Moscow with sanctions.

In a combative media briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned that Russia was prepared to "act accordingly" if the West decided to use Russia's frozen state assets - chief among them being around $300 billion of central bank foreign currency reserves.

The use of the funds "will be interpreted by us as an unlawful and defiantly unfriendly attack, giving us the right to take retaliatory actions to protect our interests," she said on Wednesday.

Top Western officials, including European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, have suggested seizing the frozen reserves to help fund Ukraine's reconstruction after the war.

Zakharova called the West's move to freeze the assets - imposed in response to Moscow sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 - a violation of international law.

"We should not forget about the foreign assets of Western countries, businesses and citizens who are located on the territory of our country," she said.

If the West failed to adhere to the principles of democracy, an open economy, private property and judicial independence, then "we will recognise this and act accordingly," Zakharova added.

Dozens of international companies including oil giant BP, French carmaker Renault, and McDonald's have mothballed operations there since Moscow began what it calls its "special military operation" and the subsequent imposition of tough Western sanctions.

Russian lawmakers in May gave initial approval to a bill that would allow the government to nationalise the assets of Western companies that have left, though it is not on the statute books yet.

(Reporting by Reuters; editing by John Stonestreet)