Britain warns Russia of sanctions against oligarchs if Ukraine is invaded

  • Russia has assembled military forces near Ukraine
  • Britain already has sanctions against some Russian individuals, entities
  • The Kremlin says sanctions will backfire and harm British companies
  • Johnson will ask Putin to ‘step down’

LONDON / MOSCOW, January 31 (Reuters) – Britain on Monday called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “take a step back from the brink” over Ukraine, warning that any intrusion would trigger sanctions against companies and people closely linked to the Kremlin .

The United States and Britain are trying to signal to Putin that Russia’s richest men, who have huge assets abroad, will be punished if he orders troops to invade Ukraine, even though Moscow has repeatedly denied wanting a war with its former Soviet neighbor.

The United States and its allies have compiled a list of Russian elites in or near Putin’s inner circle to impose economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior administration official said Monday. Read more

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the threat of such measures would be tantamount to an attack on Russian companies, which would backfire because it would end up harming British companies and Western shareholders. Read more

“It is not often that one sees or hears such direct threats to attack businesses,” Peskov said. “An attack by a given country on Russian business involves retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests if necessary.”

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, London has become the prominent global center for a huge outflow of money from former Soviet republics.

Opponents of Putin have repeatedly called on the West to be tough on Russian money, even as oligarchs and Russian officials continue to brag about their wealth in Europe’s most luxurious destinations.

Ukraine welcomed Britain’s fierce talk of sanctions, saying it was an important way to deter hasty decisions by Russia’s elite.

“When Russian dignitaries realize that they are talking about their assets, real estate and money abroad, where they – Russia’s patriots – keep them, hotheads in the Kremlin will cool down,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Yet sanctions lists show that Europe’s largest military powers, Britain and France, continue to take a softer line towards Russia’s business elite than the United States.

In 2014, for example, the United States imposed sanctions on Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer. The EU and Britain have not sanctioned Sechin, one of Putin’s most powerful men.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is battling a domestic outcry over Downing Street parties during COVID lockdowns, is due to travel to Ukraine this week and will also speak to Putin by telephone later on Monday.

“What I want to say to President Putin, as I have said before, is that I think we really all need to step down from the brink, and I think Russia needs to step down from the brink, “Johnson told reporters.

The United States, the European Union and Britain have said Russia could try to attack Ukraine after gathering tens of thousands of troops near the border. Read more

Russia rejects any such plan and demands security guarantees, including a promise from NATO never to allow Kyiv to join the alliance. Russian officials say the West is gripped by Russophobia and has no right to lecture Moscow on how to act after NATO’s accession of Central and Eastern European countries as members, closer to Russia, since the end of the Cold War.

The United States has developed specific sanctions packages for both the Russian elites who meet the criteria and their family members, and these efforts are being pursued in coordination with U.S. allies and partners, the senior U.S. official said.

“The people we have identified are in or near the Kremlin’s inner circle and play a role in government decision – making or are at least complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior,” said the senior administration official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

The British government will change the sanctions provisions to extend the scope of measures it can apply to Russia to try to deter aggression against Ukraine, Foreign Minister Liz Truss said on Sunday. Read more

She said London should be able to target “any business of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia” and that “there would be nowhere to hide from Putin’s oligarchs”. Truss will outline its approach later on Monday.

Britain has imposed sanctions on about 180 people and 48 units since Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014.

On the sanctions list are six people Britain says are close to Putin: businessmen Yuri Kovalchuk, Arkady Rotenberg and Nikolai Shamalov, former KGB officer Sergei Chemezov, Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and Federal Security Service (FSB) chief Alexander Bortnikov.

The sanctions allow the UK to freeze individual assets and ban individuals from entering the UK.

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, William James and Dmitry Antonov; editing by Michael Holden, Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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