US, UK ready to punish Putin associates if Russia invades Ukraine



© Reuters. A soldier approaches the armored personnel carrier of the Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces during a military exercise on the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, on January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy


Authors: Steve Holland, Guy Falconbridge and Dmitry Antonov

WASHINGTON/LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States and its allies have prepared a list of Russian elites in or near President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle if a senior U.S. official said on Monday. Russia sends troops to Ukraine, will impose sanctions on it.

Britain has urged Putin to “take a step back” after Russia’s troop surge near Ukraine sparked fears of war, warning that any incursion would trigger sanctions on companies and individuals close to the Kremlin.

Foreign Secretary Liz Strath said the proposed legislation would give London new powers to crack down on companies linked to the Russian government, as well as freeze personal assets and deny them entry to the UK.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Britain’s warning “very worrying”, saying it made the country less attractive to investors and hurt British businesses.

“You rarely see or hear this direct threat of attacking a business,” he said. “An attack on a Russian company by a certain country implies retaliatory measures, which will, if necessary, be formulated in our interests. »

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, London has become the go-to haven for money flowing from Russia and other former Soviet republics. Transparency advocates have long called for the UK to take a tougher stance on illicit financial flows.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to have a phone call with Putin late Monday or early Tuesday, and travel to Ukraine on Tuesday.

“As I said before, what I would say to President Putin is that I think we all really need to take a step back, and I think Russia needs to take a step back,” Johnson told reporters.

A State Department spokesman said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected to speak by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting at the request of Washington on Monday, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said Western claims of a massing of 100,000 troops near Ukraine had not been corroborated by international agencies or evidence that it was planning military action.

He said U.S. discussions of the war were “provocative”, that Russia regularly deploys troops on its own soil and that the crisis in Ukraine is a national issue.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations said China did not see Russian troops near the border as a threat and urged all parties not to escalate the situation.

Although Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed pro-Russian rebels fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine, it denies planning another invasion, but it demands sweeping security assurances, including a promise that NATO will never admit Ukraine .

Russian money abroad

Putin’s opponents have long urged the West to crack down on Russian money, even as Russian oligarchs and officials continue to flaunt their wealth in Europe’s most luxurious destinations.

Washington and London declined to say who they plan to target.

“The individuals we have identified are in or near the Kremlin, play a role in government decision-making, or at least be complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior,” the U.S. official in Washington said.

“Putin cronies will no longer be able to use their spouses or other family members as proxies to evade sanctions. Sanctions will cut them off from the international financial system and ensure they and their families can no longer enjoy the benefits of parking. They Make money in the West and attend elite Western universities. »

Since Russia annexed Crimea, Britain has imposed sanctions on around 180 people and 48 entities, including six allegedly close to Putin. Sanctions allow the UK to deny individuals entry and freeze their assets.

However, Britain has in the past taken a softer line than America’s with Russia’s business elite — for example, making Igor Sechin, one of Russia’s most powerful men, the chief executive of a producer. Rosneft was approved by Washington in 2014.

Many of the EU’s members are part of NATO, which also threatened to have “strong political consequences and enormous economic costs” if Russia invaded Ukraine further.

Some NATO countries, including the United States and Britain, have already sent weapons to Ukraine, but they ruled out sending troops there.

Poland said it had supplied tens of thousands of ammunition to neighboring Ukraine and was awaiting a response. The White House on Monday accused Russia of sending troops to Belarus, the host country for Russian exercises and bordering Poland and Ukraine.

Europe’s reliance on Russia for energy supplies has weakened the West. The future of a key gas pipeline from Russia is on hold, a senior EU official said.

The United States has asked Qatar, the largest gas producer, and other major exporters to study whether more could be supplied to Europe.

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