LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for the West to end its “addiction” to Russian energy, which he says allows President Vladimir Putin to “blackmail” the world. In the latest move, the UK slapped sanctions on more Russians and imposed rigid import tariffs.
Western leaders made a “terrible mistake” when they let Putin “get away” with Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and became more dependent on Russian energy, Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
As a result, “when he (Putin) finally came to launch his vicious war in Ukraine, he knew the world would find it very hard to punish him”, Johnson said.
“The world cannot be subject to this continuous blackmail.” “As long as the West is economically dependent on Putin, he will do all he can to exploit that dependence,” he wrote.
“If the world can end its dependence on Russian oil and gas, we can starve him of cash, destroy his strategy and cut him down to size.”
He admitted that weaning the West off Russian energy “will be painful”.
The UK on Tuesday added 350 more Russians to its sanctions list, hiked tariffs on a swathe of imports from vodka to steel, and banned exports of luxury goods in retaliation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the asset freeze and travel ban now extended to 51 oligarchs and their families, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “political allies and propagandists”.
“Working closely with our allies, we will keep increasing the pressure on Putin and cut off funding for the Russian war machine,” she said.
Among those added to the sanctions list were Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, who are already subject to European Union sanctions, and who this month stepped down from the LetterOne investment fund they co-founded, and Alfa Bank founder German Khan.
Former prime minister and president Dmitry Medvedev, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov, and his foreign ministry counterpart Maria Zakharova were also placed on the list.
The UK has been accused of being slow to act against Russian interests compared with its near neighbours in the EU.
Oligarchs previously targeted with travel bans and asset freezes include Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, as well as Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
The UK has meanwhile severed ties with Russian banks, grounded planes and stopped ships from using its ports, and plans to phase out Russian oil imports by the year-end.
The latest sanctions came as a new law came into effect early Tuesday after a fast-track procedure through parliament since the invasion.
The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act notably creates a new Register of Overseas Entities, requiring those behind foreign companies who own UK property to reveal their identities or risk prosecution.
Ministers said it would be a valuable tool for law enforcement agencies to investigate suspicious wealth.
Reforms have also been introduced to so-called Unexplained Wealth Orders, protecting agencies from exorbitant legal costs that have previously been a brake on prosecutions.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak said it will “enable us to crack down harder and faster on dirty money and those who support Putin and his regime”.
On tariffs, the Department for International Trade said the aim was to cause “maximum harm to Putin’s war machine while minimising the impact on UK businesses”.
“Russian vodka is one of the iconic products affected by the tariff increases, while the export ban will likely affect luxury vehicles, high-end fashion and works of art.”
The list of goods covered by the additional tariffs include steel, wood, cereals, drinks, fur and white fish — worth £900 million ($1.2 billion, 1.1 billion euros) a year.
“The export ban will come into force shortly and will make sure oligarchs and other members of the elite, who have grown rich under President Putin’s reign and support his illegal invasion, are deprived of access to luxury goods,” the DIT said.
Britain will deny Russia and its ally Belarus access to Most Favoured Nation tariffs under World Trade Organisation rules.
“The UK is working with our international partners and is supporting the WTO to prevent those who fail to respect the rules-based international order from reaping its benefits,” it said.
“These tariffs build on the UK’s existing work to starve Russia’s access to international finance, sanction Putin’s cronies and exert maximum economic pressure on his regime,” Sunak said.
The UK and other Western powers have imposed tough punitive measures on Russia since Putin sent troops into the country on February 24.
But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Western sanctions did not go far enough, in a video call to northern European leaders meeting in London.
“There has to be a trade embargo with Russia,” he told them via an interpreter.
100,000 Britons to host refugees
Over 100,000 Britons have expressed interest in hosting Ukrainian refugees, as part of a government programme for households to take in those fleeing Russia’s invasion, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday.
“It’s fantastic that over 100,000 people and organisations have recorded their interest in supporting Ukrainians fleeing the war,” he tweeted.
“Thank you to everyone across the country who has stepped up to offer their help so far,” he said, less than 24 hours after the launch of the “Homes for Ukraine” programme.
The scheme enables individuals, charities, community groups and businesses to volunteer accommodation for refugees for a minimum of six months.
It is open to Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members and will allow them to live and work in the UK for up to three years and access healthcare, benefits and education.
Hosts, who will be given £350 ($457, 418 euros) a month, must submit the names of those they wish to sponsor, with NGOs and charities working to identify those most in need.
With input from AFP