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Boris Johnson warned UK sanctions against Russia are feeble and kleptocrats will ‘not be caught’

Senior Tories demand tougher action now – while one of Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile enemies brands measures ‘tepid’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 22 February 2022 14:13 GMT
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Boris Johnson announces sanctions on Russian banks and individuals

UK sanctions against Russia after its partial invasion of Ukraine have been dismissed as feeble within moments of being announced by Boris Johnson.

A Labour politician who has investigated the hidden wealth of Kremlin allies in London said her “expert legal advice” was that most kleptocrats “would not be caught” by any further action.

Senior Tories joined opposition parties in calling for much tougher action now – while a businessman long-identified as one of Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile enemies branded the measures “tepid”.

Last week, Mr Johnson vowed that sanctions would “come down like a steel trap in the event of the first Russian toecap crossing into more sovereign Ukrainian territory”.

However, in response to the Kremlin ordering troops into two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, the UK is targeting five Russian banks and three super-rich Russians only.

The bank’s UK assets – Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank – will be frozen and the plutocrats banned from travelling to the UK, or from “having any dealings” with UK citizens or organisations.

But Margaret Hodge, the former chair of the Commons public accounts committee, warned UK sanctions legislation had “serious flaws”, according to her legal advice.

“It may not affect oligarchs close to Putin who do not hold a position at a company or who own less than 50 per cent of shares,” she told the prime minister.

“Unlike US legislation, it is limited in how we can sanction Russian government officials and the definition of the government of Russia excludes the legislative branch, like the Duma.

“That means that kleptocrats who have stolen from the Russian people and support Putin would not be caught.”

Mr Johnson insisted Ms Hodge was “in error”, saying: “We can certainly target members of the Duma” – also arguing Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is “already facing sanctions”.

But senior Conservatives echoed the criticism, Iain Duncan Smith calling for the government to “hit them with sanctions hard and hit them now”, adding: “They need to feel the pain.”

And Tobias Ellwood, the Tory chair of the Commons defence committee, warned: “Sanctions alone will not be enough. Indeed, untargeted sanctions may play into Putin’s plan to pivot Russia ever closer to China.”

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee, said: “These are not the biggest banks. I’d like to see this go much further and much faster,

“You allow people to think that you’re not serious if you don’t respond seriously, quickly.”

Bill Browder, whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky was killed after uncovering a £174m fraud believed to have involved Russian officials, tweeted: “Pretty tepid if you ask me. The oligarchs have been on the US sanctions list since 2018.

Referring to Russia’s biggest banks, he added: “Where is VTB and Sberbank? Where are the other 50 oligarchs? The ones whose names we can’t mention out of fear of libel.”

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