Boris Johnson imposes sanctions on Russian banks and plutocrats in response to Ukraine invasion

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 22 February 2022 15:26
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Boris Johnson announces sanctions on Russian banks and individuals

The UK is imposing sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals in response to Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into Ukraine, Boris Johnson has announced.

In an emergency statement to the House of Commons, the prime minister said that the movement of Russian armed forces into the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk amounted a “renewed invasion” of Ukraine.

President Putin was “establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive” and if the worst happens, Ukraine can expect to become “the target of a full scale war of aggression”, warned Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson said that the UK will continue to seek a diplomatic resolution to the crisis “until the last possible moment”.

But he said that it was time to recognise that the Russian president appears “implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine”.

“We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan: the violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings, followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers, at peak readiness to attack,” said the PM.

“If the worst happens, then a European nation of 44 million men, women and children would become the target of a full-scale war of aggression, waged without a shred of justification, for the absurd and even mystical reasons that Putin described last night.”

Announcing the initial tranche of UK sanctions in response to Putin’s actions, the PM pledged that Britain “will not waver” and was ready to implement further “much, much tougher” action will be taken if the crisis heightens.

Western officials later stressed that Tuesday’s sanctions had been co-ordinated between the UK, US and EU and represented a “declaration of intent” ahead of much stronger action which would be taken in response to any continued Russian aggression.

Precise details of future sanctions were being withheld in order not to provide advance notice to Putin and his inner circle on how they could be hit.

“We should steel ourselves for a protracted crisis,” said Mr Johnson.

“The United Kingdom will meet this challenge side by side with our allies, determined that we will not allow Putin to drag our continent back into a Hobbesian state of nature where aggression pays and might is right.”

This infographic, created for The Independent by statistics agency Statista, shows the relative military strength of Ukraine and Russia

Mr Johnson ordered immediate asset freezes on five Russian banks - Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank - accused of bankrolling the occupation.

And he named three “very high net worth individuals” - Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg, and Igor Rotenberg - who will be subject to travel bans and a freeze on assets.

Timchenko and the Rotenbergs are billionaire businessmen and all close confidantes of Mr Putin. All are already subject to US sanctions.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said the UK would also sanction members of the Russian parliament who voted to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ms Truss said: “This first wave of sanctions will hit oligarchs and banks close to the Kremlin. It sends a clear message that the UK will use our economic heft to inflict pain on Russia and degrade their strategic interests.

“And we are prepared to go much further if Russia does not pull back from the brink. We will curtail the ability of the Russian state and Russian companies to raise funds in our markets, prohibit a range of high tech exports, and further isolate Russian banks from the global economy.

“These will be surgically targeted sanctions that will hit Russia hard.”

But leading Putin critic Bill Browder dismissed the measures announced on Tuesday as “very tepid” after Mr Johnson’s earlier promise of a “barrage” of sanctions striking at Putin’s inner circle.

Pointing out that Russia’s two largest banks did not feature on the PM’s list, Mr Browder asked: “Where is VTB and Sberbank? Where are the other 50 oligarchs? The ones whose names we can’t mention out of fear of libel.”

And Labour MP Margaret Hodge said that she had received legal advice that the measures had “serious flaws” and would cover only 15 on the list of 35 key “kleptocrats” recommended for sanction by allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Dame Margaret told the Commons that the sanctions were drawn too narrowly and would miss many oligarchs close to Putin as well as members of the Duma lower house of the Moscow parliament.

But Mr Johnson insisted she was “in error”, as Mr Abramovich himself was already subject to sanctions and Timchenko features on the Navalny list.

He said the UK was ready to “target any individual or company of strategic importance to Russia”.

But he appeared to indicate that further action will depend on agreement with the US and European allies, telling MPs that “the unity of the West is the priority”.

Setting out the effect of the sanctions, the PM said: “Any assets they hold in the UK will be frozen, the individuals concerned will be banned from travelling here, and we will prohibit all UK individuals and entities from having any dealings with them.”

And he promised: “This is the first tranche, the first barrage, of what we are prepared to do: we will hold further sanctions at readiness, to be deployed alongside the United States and the European Union if the situation escalates still further.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed the sanctions but said the PM should not wait to go further.

“A threshold has already been breached,” said Starmer. “A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrications.

“If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs.”

He called for a broadcast ban on the Russia Today TV station, the cancellation of the Nordstream 2 oil pipeline and the exclusion of Russia from international financial mechanisms and trade in its sovereign debt.

And he said Mr Johnson should admit his “mistakes” in failing to clamp down on illicit Russian money in London.

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