What Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could mean for the UK

Vladimir Putin’s actions could mean more sanctions, price rises and aid for Ukraine.

Christopher McKeon
Thursday 24 February 2022 14:05 GMT
Ukrainians stage a protest outside Downing Street after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Yui Mok/PA)
Ukrainians stage a protest outside Downing Street after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Wire)

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The UK has been vocal in its support for Ukraine against Russian aggression, providing military aid and announcing sanctions on Russian banks and oligarchs.

Now Russian troops have invaded Ukraine, here is what that could mean for the UK.

– What sanctions has the UK imposed and what more could be done?

Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, the UK has sanctioned around 183 individuals under the Russia sanctions regime.

This includes the three oligarchs – Igor and Boris Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko – who were added to the list on Tuesday, as well as intelligence chief Aleksandr Bortnikov.

There are also 53 entities on the sanctions list, which mainly covers Russian-backed militias in eastern Ukraine but also includes a number of companies and the five Russian banks added on Tuesday.

But a wider array of sanctions is understood to be under consideration, in line with sanctions imposed by the US and EU.

This could include sanctions on more oligarchs – for instance, Chelsea FC owner and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin Roman Abramovich – or larger banks such as Sberbank or VTB, which has already been sanctioned by the US and EU.

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, is one Russian oligarch who could face sanctions (Mike Egerton/PA)
Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, is one Russian oligarch who could face sanctions (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Archive)

Further sanctions will almost certainly be placed on members of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, who voted to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states, along with other politicians such as defence minister Sergey Shoygu, who is set to be sanctioned by the EU.

More severe steps against Russia thought to be under consideration include barring Russia from selling sovereign debt in the City of London, limiting its ability to import hi-tech goods, and banning Russia from the international Swift payments system.

Banning Russia from Swift would be a major blow to its banks – Conservative MP Jonathan Djanogly said on Tuesday that it would effectively return Russia to “the economic dark ages” – but is likely to be resisted by Russia’s Western creditors.

– What is the UK’s presence in Ukraine?

The UK has a limited presence in Ukraine. Up to 5,000 British citizens were estimated to be living in Ukraine before the crisis. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has since advised all UK citizens to leave the country, but it is not known how many remain and the FCDO has declined to comment on numbers.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics) (PA Graphics)

The FCDO itself has a small presence in the country in the form of the British embassy, which has relocated to Lviv near the Polish border, nearly 300 miles west of the capital, Kyiv. Around half of the embassy’s personnel are understood to still be in the country.

Going in the other direction, there has been a Ukrainian community in the UK since the early 20th century, when a number of Ukrainian immigrants settled around Manchester. The Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain operates 25 branches across the country, primarily in the North of England.

A 2015 study suggested there were around 23,000 Ukrainian migrants in the UK, although once British-born descendants of Ukrainian immigrants are included the community will be much larger.

– What aid has the UK given Ukraine?

The UK has provided around £184 million in aid to Ukraine since 2016/17, primarily in the form of conflict, stability and reconstruction support following the invasion of 2014, as well as humanitarian aid.

In terms of military aid, the UK has trained 22,000 Ukrainian troops under Operation Orbital since 2015, supporting both Ukraine’s army and navy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a briefing with Colonel James HF Thurstan, Commander of Operation Orbital in in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 1 2022 (Peter Nicholls/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a briefing with Colonel James HF Thurstan, Commander of Operation Orbital in in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 1 2022 (Peter Nicholls/PA) (PA Wire)

Although the Government announced the withdrawal of the Operation Orbital training team in early February due to escalating tensions, the UK has continued to send military supplies to Ukraine, including 2,000 anti-tank missiles and non-lethal equipment such as body armour, helmets and boots.

– What are the UK’s business links with Ukraine?

Trade between the UK and Ukraine is relatively small at just £1.8 billion in 2021 – around 0.1% of the UK’s total trade.

However, Ukraine’s role as a major food producer is reflected in the UK’s import statistics. Last year, around 3% of the UK’s cereals imports came from Ukraine.

Ukraine also provided around 3% of the UK’s iron and steel imports last year, another important commodity at a time when the Government is pursuing major infrastructure projects.

– What does the Russian invasion mean for prices in the UK?

War in Ukraine is almost certain to exacerbate cost-of-living problems in the UK. Wholesale gas prices soared on Thursday following the invasion, and, while the UK does not import much gas directly from Russia, British consumers will still be affected by rising worldwide gas prices.

Traffic jams formed as people fled Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP)
Traffic jams formed as people fled Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine (Emilio Morenatti/AP) (AP)

Similarly, war in Ukraine will also push up food prices. The country is one of the world’s largest grain suppliers, meaning conflict is likely to cause supply problems, especially in Europe.

Oil prices have also risen since the invasion, given Russia’s role as an oil producer and as a form of security for investors as the stock market slumps.

The UK therefore faces price rises on three fronts as a result of the invasion – oil, gas and food – at a time when inflation is already high and many are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

– What is the UK’s wider military involvement?

Although the UK has no troops stationed in Ukraine, it has contributed resources to Nato’s presence in the wider region.

Around 900 British troops are stationed in Estonia under Operation Cabrit, the UK’s contribution to Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic states, which some fear could also be targeted by Mr Putin.

An additional battlegroup of 850 troops has also begun deploying to Estonia over the past week, and 350 Royal Marines have been sent to Poland to reinforce the light cavalry squadron already stationed there.

Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Trent has joined Nato vessels in the eastern Mediterranean (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Royal Navy patrol ship HMS Trent has joined Nato vessels in the eastern Mediterranean (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

Four extra RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to British bases in Cyprus, while patrol ship HMS Trent has joined Nato vessels in the eastern Mediterranean. Another ship, destroyer HMS Diamond, is scheduled to join it but has suffered technical difficulties, delaying its departure.

For now the UK appears likely to stick to sanctions rather than engaging in direct military action unless a Nato ally is attacked, although some Conservative MPs have called for the Government to provide air support to Ukraine.

Cyber attacks also remain a possibility. Conservative backbencher Alicia Kearns tweeted on Thursday that the Government should consider cyber attacks on Russia if Mr Putin does not withdraw troops.

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