LONDON, April 20 (Reuters) /PRNewswire/ — Britain has unveiled a plan to hit more Russian individuals and companies with sanctions if Moscow goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine.
The UK has had an independent sanctions regime since its full exit from the EU in late 2020 – but under current rules it has only been able to sanction those directly linked to the destabilization of Ukraine.
To put further pressure on Moscow ahead of an expected visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to Ukraine, the British government unveiled legislation on Monday promising to allow it to further expand the net in applying sanctions.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Truss said the move would give London “the power to sanction those” who support Russia’s “aggressive actions against Ukraine”. This includes all companies associated with the Russian state; which operates in a sector of strategic importance for the Kremlin; or who conduct business of economic importance to Russia. Persons who own or control these organizations are also within the scope.
Sanctions could include asset freezes in the UK; prevent target persons from conducting transactions with other persons in the country; or turning them back at the UK border if they try to enter the UK, Truss said.
“This will be the toughest sanctions regime against Russia that we have introduced to date and will mark the biggest change in our approach since leaving the European Union,” she said. “Moscow should be clear that if they pursue their aggressive intentions toward Ukraine, we will make maximum use of these new powers. Nothing is off the table.”
Truss added that so-called “gold” UK visas for Russian millionaires with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin will be reviewed before April 5.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the British move as “very worrying”.
“You don’t often see or hear direct threats like this against companies,” he said. “An attack by a specific country on Russian businesses will imply retaliatory action, and such action will be formulated, if necessary, based on our interests.”
Note of caution
Dmitry Suslov, deputy director of the Russian think tank Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies and lecturer at the National Research University in Moscow, expressed doubts about the effectiveness of new sanctions against Russia.
He said additional sanctions would “send a very strong signal to Russian companies that they need to nationalize, that they need to become even more loyal and consolidated around the Kremlin, that they need to take their business investments, money, everything out of the UK and bring them back to Moscow.” and develop their business in Russia and not in London.”
“I don’t think that the majority of Russian businessmen who have relocated their business or part of their business to the UK would sever their ties with the country, with Russia, and position themselves as enemies of Russia,” Suslov warned. “Not everyone, not even the majority of these businessmen, will willingly want to go down the path of Boris Berezovsky” – a Russian oligarch-turned-vocal anti-Putinist.
Johnson will travel to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Tuesday to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, No 10 Downing Street said. Truss was due to travel with him but tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday night.
A planned phone call between Johnson and Putin – originally scheduled for 4pm UK time on Monday – has yet to take place, but Downing Street said officials wanted to “fix the time” for a call to be made as soon as possible. Johnson has battled criticism from his own MPs in the House of Commons following a report on controversial government meetings held under COVID-19 restrictions. Downing Street insisted it is “not unusual for times to change with world leaders”.
The sanctions move and diplomatic push by Johnson and his foreign secretary comes after Britain signaled it was ready to step up its support for NATO.
Vitali Klitschko, Mayor of Kyiv and former professional boxer, thanked Britain and Johnson for their support.
“It is very important for Ukraine to have political support from our friends – we cannot survive without friends,” he told POLITICO in an interview. “We are talking about the supply of defense weapons, sanctions against attackers – if this happens, we have a lot of leverage to stop the idea of attacking Ukraine.”
Matei Rosca and Esther Webber contributed coverage. This story has been updated to include details on Truss testing positive for COVID-19.