Russia has accused Western countries of using sanctions to steal the country’s gold and foreign exchange reserves amid the raging war in Ukraine.

Asked about a proposal by the European Union to transfer frozen Russian assets to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that “a large part” of the country’s assets were being stolen by “specific Western countries”.

Last week, the president of the European Council Charles Michel said the bloc should consider transferring frozen Russian reserves to Ukraine.

“These are absolutely illegal actions, they are contrary to international law. This is an attack on public and private property,” said Peskov.

“Making decisions such as those you spoke about [transferring Russia’s frozen assets to help Ukraine] will be another step in violating all the rules and norms of international law.”

The United States and its European allies have imposed unprecedented economic sanctions against Russia over its military operation in Ukraine, which is now in its ninth month.

Nearly half of Moscow’s $640 billion worth of gold and foreign exchange reserves have been frozen due to sanctions.

Russia launched the military operation in the former Soviet republic following Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the 2014 Minsk agreements and Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

At the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin said one of the goals of what he called a “special military operation” was to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

The US and its European allies have supplied large consignments of heavy weaponry to Kiev, defying Russian warnings.

Moscow has been critical of weapons supplies to Kiev by the US and its Western allies, warning it will only prolong the already simmering conflict.

IAEA to inspect Ukrainian sites over ‘dirty bomb’ accusations

In a separate development, the UN nuclear agency said on Monday that it would send inspectors in the coming days to two Ukrainian nuclear sites after Russia said Ukraine could deploy a “dirty bomb” that is laced with nuclear material.

“The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is aware of statements made by the Russian Federation on Sunday about alleged activities at two nuclear locations in Ukraine,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that both were already subject to its inspections and one was inspected a month ago.

“The IAEA is preparing to visit the locations in the coming days. The purpose of the safeguards visits is to detect any possible undeclared nuclear activities and material,” the statement noted.

The announcement came as a senior Russian official said Ukraine is in the “final stage” of creating a “dirty bomb”.

“According to the information we have, two organizations in Ukraine have specific instructions to create a so-called ‘dirty bomb.’ This work is in its final stage,” Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, the chief of the Russian Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Force, was quoted as saying.

He added that Kiev plans to accuse Russia of “using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine and thus launch a powerful anti-Russian campaign in the world.

Russian media had earlier identified the two sites as the Eastern Mineral Enrichment Plant in the central Dnipropetrovsk region and the Institute for Nuclear Research in Kiev.

Ukraine has denied the accusations, with the country’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba saying earlier in the day that the inspection would take place at Kiev’s request.

Kuleba said he had spoken to IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi and urged him to “send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a “dirty bomb.” He agreed.”

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