UK unveils ‘first barrage’ of sanctions on Russian banks, oligarchs

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Britain on Tuesday slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson called “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.

Addressing the UK parliament hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two Moscow-backed Ukrainian rebel regions, Johnson described the move as “a renewed invasion” and “pretext for a full-scale offensive”.

It follows weeks of rising tensions around the crisis in Ukraine, after a massive build-up of Russian troops on its borders, and swiftly punctured Western diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the situation.

“We have to face the possibility that none of our messages has been heeded and Putin is implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine,” Johnson told MPs, amid cross-party condemnation of Moscow.

“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.”

As part of a coordinated Western response, the five banks targeted by Britain — Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank — and the three people sanctioned will see any UK assets frozen.

The individuals concerned — Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg — will be barred from entering the UK and all British individuals and entities will be banned from dealing with them and the banks.

‘Pay the price’

Western officials described Rossiya as “particularly close to the Kremlin” and Promsvyazbank as “propping up the Russian defence sector”.

Meanwhile the oligarchs are “long-standing associates” of Putin, and have been targeted “to show there is a cost borne by the Kremlin”, they said.

Britain also announced that alongside the US and European Union it will be sanctioning members of the Russian parliament who voted to recognise the breakaway Ukrainian regions and barring UK individuals or businesses from dealing with them.

Further measures, targeting Russia’s financial and banking sector, high tech imports, as well as a wider range of Kremlin-linked oligarchs, companies and energy sector enterprises, are planned, Western officials added.

Britain’s announcement came after the Russian ambassador in London was called in “to explain” Moscow’s actions, the foreign ministry said.

“We made clear to the Russian ambassador that Russia would pay the price for its actions through further sanctions if it did not withdraw its troops,” a ministry spokesperson added.

Earlier Tuesday, after chairing a meeting with security chiefs, Johnson vowed measures to hit Moscow “very hard”.

Weeks ago, he also pledged sanctions will “come down like a steel trap in the event of the first Russian toecap crossing into more sovereign Ukrainian territory“.

‘Need to do better.’

However, numerous British lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, were left underwhelmed by the measures announced and urged him to go further.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw noted the three oligarchs had been sanctioned in the United States four years ago.

“We need to do better than that,” Bradshaw said, urging more use of so-called unexplained wealth orders against Russians in Britain as well as reviews of high-net-worth UK visas granted to them.

Johnson insisted further sanctions were “at readiness to be deployed” if the Kremlin continued its aggression.

Putin on Monday recognised the independence of the rebel-held Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine and instructed the defence ministry to assume “the function of peacekeeping” in the separatist-held regions.

Britain’s relations with the Kremlin have been frosty for over a decade, following the radiation poisoning death of a former Russian spy in London in 2006 and the attempted murder of another double agent in the southwestern city of Salisbury in 2018.

Successive governments in London, however, have faced sustained pressure to act against illicit Russian money circulating through the city’s financial markets in recent decades.

By Joe JACKSON

© Agence France-Presse