January 31, 2022
By Steve Holland, Guy Faulconbridge and Dmitry Antonov
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its allies have prepared a list of Russian elites in or near President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle to punish with sanctions if Russia sends troops into Ukraine, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.
Britain urged Putin to “step back from the brink” after the Russian buildup of troops near Ukraine stoked fears of war, and also warned that any incursion would trigger sanctions against companies and people with close links to the Kremlin.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the British warning “very disturbing”, saying it made Britain less attractive to investors and would hurt British companies.
“It’s not often you see or hear such direct threats to attack business,” he said. “An attack by a given country on Russian business implies retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests if necessary.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to speak to Putin by telephone on Monday and travel to Ukraine on Tuesday.
“What I will say to President Putin, as I’ve said before, is that I think we really all need to step back from the brink, and I think Russia needs to step back from the brink,” Johnson told reporters.
The TASS news agency quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would speak by phone with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.
The U.N. Security Council was due to meet in public on Monday, at the request of the United States, to discuss Russia’s troop build-up. The United States describes the meeting of the 15-member body as a chance for Russia to explain itself.
Russia signalled it could try and block it, and the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations said his government favoured quiet diplomacy and would oppose a public Security Council session. Nine votes are needed for the meeting to proceed.
RUSSIAN MONEY ABROAD
Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, London has become the haven of choice for a vast outflow of money from former Soviet republics.
Opponents of Putin have urged the West to get tough https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/how-financial-western-sanctions-might-target-russia-2022-01-19 on Russian money, though oligarchs and Russian officials continue to flaunt their wealth at Europe’s most luxurious destinations.
Both Washington and London declined to name the individuals they planned to target.
“The individuals we have identified are in or near the inner circles of the Kremlin and play a role in government decision making or are at a minimum complicit in the Kremlin’s destabilizing behavior,” the U.S. official in Washington said.
“Putin’s cronies will no longer be able to use their spouses or other family members as proxies to evade sanctions. Sanctions would cut them off from the international financial system and ensure that they and their family members will no longer able to enjoy the perks of parking their money in the West and attending elite Western universities.”
Russia, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs pro-Russian rebels fighting government forces in east Ukraine, denies planning any further incursion, but is demanding sweeping security guarantees including a NATO promise never to admit Ukraine.
Some NATO countries including the United States and Britain have sent arms to Ukraine although they have ruled out sending troops there to fight.
Poland, a NATO member that borders Ukraine as well as the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Belarus – which is hosting Russian drills – said it had offered Ukraine tens of thousands of munitions, and was awaiting a reply.
“NOWHERE TO HIDE”
British foreign minister Liz Truss was due to make a statement on sanctions to parliament, having on Sunday announced a plan for new legislation this week to broaden the scope of sanctions that can be applied to Russia.
Britain has already imposed sanctions https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-uk-sanctions-list on about 180 people and 48 entities since Russia annexed Crimea, including six people it says are close to Putin. The sanctions allow Britain to bar individuals from entering and to freeze their assets.
Still, Britain has in the past taken a softer line on Russia’s business elite than the United States – for instance sparing Igor Sechin, one of Russia’s most powerful men as CEO of oil producer Rosneft, whom Washington sanctioned in 2014.
The European Union, many of whose members are in NATO, has also threatened “strong political consequences and massive economic costs” for Russia over any new incursion into Ukraine.
Europe’s dependence on Russian energy supplies weakens the West’s hand. The United States has asked top gas producer Qatar and other major exporters to study whether they can supply extra gas to Europe if Russian flows are disrupted.
A person briefed on the talks told Reuters Qatar was asking the EU in return to restrict resales of gas outside the bloc – a challenge to the EU’s core principle of market liberalisation.
(Guy Faulconbridge reported from London and Dmitry Antonov from Moscow; Additional reporting by William James in London; Writing by Kevin Liffey, Editing by Timothy Heritage)