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Ukraine crisis: Seven things the UK can do, from a crackdown on dirty Russian money to boots on the ground

The i 14/02/2022 Hugo Gye

As the world waits to work out whether Vladimir Putin is genuinely planning to invade Ukraine, Western leaders are embarking on a fresh round of last-ditch diplomacy.

British ministers are keen to play a leading part in the efforts, with Liz Truss telling allies she does not want to repeat the mistakes of 2014 when the UK took a back seat as Russia took over Crimea and occupied parts of eastern Ukraine.

Targeted sanctions

There are already 180 individuals, and almost 50 groups or businesses, which are under British sanctions designed to punish those involved in the 2014 incursion into Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has tabled new rules which allow the UK to sanction any entity linked to the Russian state, or that is strategically important to Moscow; triggering sanctions would make it harder for Mr Putin’s allies to do business in Britain and increase pressure on him to stand down.

Broad sanctions

Some Conservative MPs are pushing the Prime Minister to go further, sanctioning whole swathes of Russian business such as all the country’s banks, or its entire oil and gas industry. This would have a punishing impact on Russia’s economy – but the danger for the UK is that it could also rebound on us, sending energy prices higher and damaging the City of London’s financial and legal sectors.

City crackdown

A longer-term reform programme has long been mooted which would make it harder for Russian oligarchs and other wealthy foreigners to launder money through London, for example by toughening up transparency rules on the ownership of property and companies. This would have little immediate impact on the Kremlin but could weaken Mr Putin over the long run by breaking the implicit deal he has with the Russian elite: that if they stay out of politics, they can enjoy their riches with impunity.

Convening power

Since Brexit, the UK Government has placed a great emphasis on its “convening power” as a bridge between Europe, the US and the Commonwealth, for example through hosting the G7 and COP 26 summits last year. Boris Johnson hopes to play a key role in ensuring leaders from around the world mount a united response to Russian aggression – although some EU countries still distrust the Prime Minister because of his role in bringing Brexit about.

Negotiating with Putin

The Russian President has laid out a series of demands, including for Nato to rule out any future expansion, which he says are necessary before he will agree to pull troops away from Ukraine’s borders. Mr Johnson could seek to persuade allies to agree to these conditions as a price worth paying for averting war. But in reality it is inconceivable that the UK or the rest of Nato will give in to what they regard as Kremlin blackmail.

Troops near Ukraine

As well as sending weapons to Ukraine and training up the country’s own troops, Britain has been deploying military reinforcements to Nato countries in central and eastern Europe such as Poland and the Baltic states. This is meant to send the message to Russia that aggression in Ukraine cannot be allowed to spill over to its neighbours.

Troops in Ukraine

Tobias Ellwood has become the first high-profile Tory MP to demand that Nato send troops into Ukraine itsef. He argues this would be no different to operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Bosnia – but there is no prospect of the UK or its allies putting boots on the ground in a conflict that would potentially involve face-to-face confrontation with Russia, nuclear powers meeting on the battlefield for the first time since 1945.


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