Boris says the job of the UK is ‘to lead the West’ against Putin

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Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

Prime Minister Boris Johnson updated the House of Commons this afternoon on the emerging situation in the Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said:

“The job of the UK is to lead the West in bringing together the most important countries in creating a package of economic sanctions that will deter President Putin from what I believe would be a disastrous miscalculation, and also to strengthen our support for the Ukrainian people, and indeed the Ukrainian army.”

It is for the West to decide what sanctions should be imposed and when. One measure would be to exclude Russia from the system known as Swift, the global financial messaging service. Swift is used by many thousands of financial institutions in more than 200 countries and Boris Johnson has said banning Russia from this would be a “potent weapon” that would effectively make it very hard for Russian banks to do business overseas.

This sanction was actually used successfully against Iran in 2012 resulting in the country losing significant oil revenues and a large amount of foreign trade.

The United States could also ban Russia from financial transactions involving US dollars. Essentially, any western firm that allowed a Russian institution to deal in dollars would face penalties. This would mean that Russia would be extremely limited in what it could buy and sell around the world and it would have a huge impact on Russia’s economy as most of its oil and gas sales are made in dollars.

Western powers could also take action to block further Russia’s access to international debt markets, blacklist Russian banks or restrict the export of key commodities.

The Prime Minister relayed the events of his call with Mr Putin to the House of Commons on Wednesday, in which he asked for a dialling down of aggression and warned Britain will hit Moscow with more sanctions the “moment the first Russian toecap crosses further into Ukrainian territory.”

Mr Johnson urged the Russian president to “step back,” saying it was “holding a gun to the head of Ukraine.”

As things stand, the UK already has sanctions against Russia in place, some established the last time Russia invaded Ukrainian territory, and others in reaction to other Russian acts, like the Magnitsky sanctions.

‘Magnitsky’ sanctions target those responsible for human rights violations or corruption. The UK established a global human rights sanctions regime in 2020 and a global anti-corruption sanction regime last year, using powers in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018.

Further sanctions could be imposed to restrict the ability of Russian individuals to invest and live in London. The UK government is already issuing “unexplained wealth orders,” which require declarations where Russian cash has come from.

Referring to the sanctions, the British PM said:

“This country has come down very well on dirty money from Russia. That’s why we have sanctions on Russia.”

Speaking in Kyiv last night alongside Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, Boris Johnson said:

“There is a clear and present danger.

“We see preparations for all kinds of operations consistent with an imminent military campaign. Our view is that time is urgent and this is something that needs to be addressed.

“Ukraine will fight. They will put up a very, very fierce and bloody resistance. Mothers in Russia should reflect on that fact. I hope President Putin steps back from confrontation.”

President Zelensky thanked Boris Johnson for Britain’s support on Tuesday. 

Mr Zelensky warned that if fighting broke out, “this is not going to be a war between Ukraine and Russia; this is going to be a European war, a fully fledged war”.

Britain and Poland have joined the US in supplying Ukraine with weapons and around 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers have passed through a British-run training program called Operation Orbital. Mr Johnson also announced £88 million in aid to assist government reform and energy independence in Ukraine. 

Britain last week said it was also preparing to double the number of its troops deployed to Estonia and dispatch warships and jets to Nato’s eastern flank to “send a clear message” to Moscow.

Other European members led by Germany have refused to provide guns or ammunition and have called for caution on sanctions packages, including the possible suspension of the Nord Stream II gas pipeline.

Russia has massed upwards of 120,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus, in what the British Government says appears to be preparation for invasion.

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