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UK Calls for Immediate Action Against Russia

UK Calls for Immediate Action Against Russia
 Georgina Wright
Resident Senior Fellow and Deputy Director for International Studies

For London, Russia poses the greatest threat to Europe’s security order. It believes Europe’s response should be bullish: support Ukraine politically and militarily, impose heavy sanctions on Russia and target Russian assets in Europe, as well as strengthen Europe’s defense capabilities. The crisis also shows that the UK remains committed to safeguarding Europe’s security order, writes Georgina Wright.

On Tuesday 22 February, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News that "the invasion of Ukraine has begun". Hours earlier on Monday, Russian president Putin signed a decree recognising the independence of the self-declared people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine. London has no doubts over Moscow’s intentions. Russia has invaded Ukraine and the West must respond swiftly and forcefully. The UK’s strategy will be multipronged: continue to support Ukraine diplomatically and militarily, strengthen NATO, and target Russia and Russian individuals with sanctions.

The UK has long considered Russia an acute threat to European security. Recent events such as the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury and the imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny have pushed the UK to adopt a much tougher stance vis-à-vis Moscow than some of its European neighbours. London qualified Russia the "most acute threat" to Britain’s, and by default Europe’s, security in its March 2021 Integrated Review, the government’s blueprint for British foreign policy. In addition, the UK wants the new NATO Strategic Concept, which is out later this year, to break away from the NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, which called on more cooperative relations with Russia. Instead, Allies should focus on intelligence-sharing and strengthening their military tools. In January 2022, the UK argued that the West could not afford to wait to see how things developed along the Russia/Ukraine border.


In January 2022, the UK argued that the West could not afford to wait to see how things developed along the Russia/Ukraine border.

Like the United States, the British government believed there was a very strong chance that Putin would authorise an invasion - and that the West must prepare for that possibility. Outside of the EU, the UK no longer has influence over the EU’s sanctions policy or its trade relationship with Russia. Instead, London focused on four elements: provide political and military support to Ukraine (the UK first sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine on 17 January 2022); deterrence, by strengthening NATO; dialogue, by supporting US-Russia talks, discussions in NATO, the OSCE and the Normandy format, and engaging Ukraine and Russia directly; and calling out Russian disinformation.

The pace of consultations with Western allies, including the US, France and Germany, accelerated toward the end of January. These consultations extended to the EU (on Monday 21 February, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss spoke to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell about sanctions against Russia). Prime Minister Boris Johnson also visited Ukraine on Tuesday 1 February. Meanwhile, Liz Truss travelled to Moscow to meet her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on February 10 (though her visit ended with an excruciating press conference during which Lavrov called her an "ignorant lightweight who spends too much time on social media"). Next day, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace also travelled to Moscow. Longer-term, the UK wants to work together with Western countries to build up Europe’s defence capabilities to face military incursions and hybrid threats, including from Russia. It also plans to work with partners to tackle disinformation in the UK and abroad.

The UK is currently discussing sanctions against Russia in close coordination with the United States and the EU. In the early hours of Tuesday 22 February, the Prime Minister convened an emergency meeting with cabinet ministers and officials to discuss sanctions against Russia. This afternoon, he announced the UK was introducing new sanctions against “five medium-sized or small Russian banks and three billionaires close to Vladimir Putin”. This comes after the UK passed new sanctions legislation earlier this month.

The UK is currently discussing sanctions against Russia in close coordination with the United States and the EU. 

Britain has also threatened to cut off Russian companies’ ability to raise capital in London as well as to "clamp down" on illicit Russian money in the UK. This could have far-reaching consequences: according to S&P Global, a data company specialising in financial information and analytics, there are 31 Russian companies listed on the London Stock Exchange, with a combined value of £468 billion. Transparency International have also estimated that over $2 billion of illicit Russian money has been invested into the UK housing market. The Prime Minister’s own political party is said to have accepted around £2 million in donations from individuals linked to Russia after Boris Johnson became prime minister.

How the West responds to Putin’s actions will be determining for Ukraine but also the future of Europe. The UK, the only other European country with France to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, sees itself as a guarantor of European security. It wants to respond swiftly and robustly to what is happening in Ukraine - including by clamping down on illicit Russian money in the UK. It has shown itself able and willing to work with European partners on deterrence and strengthening Europe’s ability to act. Let’s hope this pattern for cooperation can be replicated.


Copyright: Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

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