The US has for the first time transferred seized assets from a sanctions-hit Russian oligarch to send to Ukraine for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country.

The authorisation came on Wednesday from attorney-general Merrick Garland, who said additional moves of this kind would be forthcoming. “While this represents the United States’ first transfer of forfeited Russian funds for the rebuilding of Ukraine, it will not be the last,” he said in a statement.

The move comes amid a growing debate among Ukraine’s allies in the west and around the world about the extent to which seized Russian assets can be used to fund a massive reconstruction effort that is expected to kick into high gear if and when the conflict ends.

The step taken by Garland stems from last year’s indictment of Konstantin Malofeyev, a Russian investor and founder of a pro-Putin media empire, who was accused of breaching sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The attorney-general said millions of dollars had been seized “from an account at a US financial institution traceable to Malofeyev’s sanctions violations”. In February, following a meeting with Ukraine’s prosecutor-general Andriy Kostin, Garland had authorised the use of the funds “in Ukraine to remediate the harms of Russia’s unjust war”.

On Wednesday, he said the money was transferred to the US state department and would be “dedicated to that purpose”.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, US and western officials have debated to what extent they could use seized Russian assets to help Ukraine. Last year President Joe Biden enacted a law that facilitated that process in Washington.

It was unclear exactly how the assets transferred in this case will be used by Ukraine or when they will be available to Kyiv. But it represents an important moment in Washington’s economic response to the war, just as G7 finance ministers prepared to gather in Japan for a meeting ahead of the leaders summit in Hiroshima later this month.

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