Story is being misreported in the media. Belgians haven't seized or frozen any Russian assets yet - and they're unlikely to do anything of the sort.
- So far they've merely asked a number of organizations if they have control of any Russian state assets - to which the latter will say 'no'
Let's be quick, rough and to the point. There is no "arrest" as such, and it's not expected. I can explain it literally on the fingers, but the problem is that our journalists are more interested in headlines rather than the facts and a correct understanding of what is happening.
Let's define the terms: arrest involves a situation in which by a decision of the court (or other competent authority), legal or physical person loses the ability to control its assets. What do we have in the case of Belgium: we have letters from bailiffs sent to dozens of organizations, many of which are European (for example Eurocontrol), with two questions:
- Do you have assets under management that belong to the Russian state?
- Do you have debts to the Russian state?
If there is a positive response to these questions, the next step is the demand to transfer these assets to the bailiffs and/or demand to pay the debt not to the Russian government, but Yukos.
The range of organizations and companies which receive such letters, is determined simply - a clerk with a list of all legal entities of the country decides: "Could they have any connection to Russia?", and if he feels that there is at least a minimal chance - sends a letter.
This also means that investigators were not able to find and arrest anything on their own, and thus it is necessary to resort to such "information begging": Oh help good people, let us arrest anything!
I can explain the situation with a simple comparison. Bank X believes that Ivanov owes him money and transfers his debt to collectors. Collectors find out that they can not get a hold of Ivanov himself and begin to ask relatives and neighbors: "Do you have anything that belongs to Ivanov? Did Ivanov lend you money? If he did, return the money to us! And if you happen to have his old bike on the balcony, give it to us!"
The ECHR [European Court on Human Rights], by the way, almost immediately distanced itself from this dubious operation: link [in Russian]
Most likely, the incident will bubble in the media for a couple of weeks and then it will dissipate as the bailiffs will be receiving letters with the same type of answers: we have no assets and no debts to the Russian Federation.
Given the fact that we live in the interestingly-absurd time, there is a (minimal) risk that the Brussels justice will go all the way and will try to arrest, for example, a parish of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belgium.
According to the principle of reciprocity, it will be followed by the seizure and nationalization of something Belgian in Russia, and there is a reasonable suspicion that there are many more "Belgian assets" in Russia than "Russian" in Belgium.
It is worth considering the reputational damage. No need to underestimate the Chinese, Brazilians, Arabs or Indians - all of them understand that tomorrow they may be in Russia's position , because a reason can be found, for example - the same territorial conflict in the South China sea in the case of China.
Conclusions: the incident will resolve itself with the probability of 99%, without long-term consequences. But everyone will have an opinion on this subject, from Yakunin and Leontiev to Ukrainian bloggers and nutty patriots. Everyone is happy, except me, who has to write about this and not about something more interesting.