Boris Johnson to hit Putin and Lavrov with sanctions ‘imminently’, No 10 says

EU states also agree to freeze assets of president and foreign minister

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
,Adam Forrest
Friday 25 February 2022 20:18 GMT
Boris Johnson announces 'largest and most severe' sanctions against Russia

Boris Johnson will “imminently” impose sanctions directly targeting Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in response to the Ukraine invasion, No 10 has announced.

It comes after the UK government imposed asset freezes on Russian banks, airlines and oligarchs close to the Kremlin on Thursday in response to military offensive in the eastern European country.

After a call with Nato leaders to discuss the latest situation, a Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister told members that Putin was “engaging in a revanchist mission to over-turn post-Cold War order”.

“He warned the group that the Russian president’s ambitions might not stop there and that this was a Euro-Atlantic crisis with global consequences,” No 10 said.

Stepping up UK sanctions – after the latest tranche was announced on Thursday – the spokesperson said Mr Johnson would “introduce sanctions against president Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov imminently”.

EU states agreed to freeze any European assets of Putin and Lavrov on Friday, after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded for more forceful action to punish back against Russia’s invasion.

“It’s a politically important signal,” a senior EU diplomat told Reuters, referring to the decision to target the Kremlin’s senior figures.

One EU official said that the latest round of sanctions would be followed by another that may target “many more” Russian oligarchs. “We are moving as quickly as we can,” the official said.

It comes as foreign secretary Liz Truss told MPs that government moves to sanction Russian oligarchs are being “held up” by law firms based on London, according to a senior backbencher.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw revealed details from a briefing to parliamentarians on Friday, as the government comes under pressure to hit more kleptocrats with links to Putin’s regime.

Mr Bradshaw told The Independent: “She was talking about why we weren’t going faster on sanctioning some of these people.”

He added: “She explained that they had to make certain their actions were legally watertight, because of the litigiousness of the London law firms representing these men.”

The former Labour minister said it was time for the government to “name and shame” British law firms acting on behalf of oligarchs being targeted for sanctions.

“It’s absolutely outrageous – the British public have a right to know which legal firms based here in London are trying to prevent the sanctioning of Putin’s cronies,” said Mr Bradshaw.

The results of YouGov polling carried out after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (YouGov)

Meanwhile, the government put pressure on BP to cut its ties with Russian oil giant Rosneft, which the British-based company holds a 20 per cent stake in.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng held a virtual call with BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney for around 20 minutes on Friday to discuss the company’s position.

A Whitehall source said: “BP left the meeting with no doubt about the strength of the business secretary’s concern about their commercial interests in Russia.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Independent that the Ukraine crisis should force the UK and other western democracies to face up to the need to wean themselves off their reliance for trade, finance and energy on totalitarian countries.

“This has got to be the biggest wake-up call for the western world,” he said. “The mistake that the UK and other European countries have made over the last few decades is that they have allowed themselves to become much too dependent on autocratic states like China and Russia.

The former cabinet minister added: “Putin and Xi Jinping look at us and think we are weak. There comes a time when the piper has to be paid and this is it.”

Mr Johnson urged leaders from fellow Nato countries to take “immediate action” to ban Russia from the global banking system SWIFT during his call on Friday, arguing the move would “inflict maximum pain” on Putin and his regime.

Several European countries – including Germany and Italy – fear that cutting Russia out of the SWIFT payment system could make international trade more difficult and hurt their economies.

Speaking to The Independent, Bill Browder, the anti-corruption campaigner behind the Magnitsky Act, which allows action against Russian human rights abusers, said the denial of access to SWIFT would be “the one thing that would really change Putin’s calculus”.

Western officials are increasingly confident that the Russian mission is falling behind on its timetable for the invasion, with Putin’s forces still confined largely to rural areas while Ukraine concentrates its troops in urban areas in order to mount a determined defence against the expected assault.

They also insisted Ukraine was “showing strong resistance” against the Russian military attempting to seize cities on the second day of Putin’s invasion.

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