Britain on Tuesday (22 February) slapped sanctions on Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaires with close links to Vladimir Putin after the Kremlin chief ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia was heading towards “pariah status” and that the world must now brace for the next stage of Putin’s plan, saying that the Kremlin was laying the ground for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Johnson told parliament that five banks – Rossiya, IS Bank, GenBank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank – were being sanctioned, along with three people – Timchenko, Igor Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg.
But Johnson refrained from imposing limits on Russia’s biggest state banks, cutting off capital for Russian companies or ejecting other prominent so-called Russian oligarchs from Britain.
“This is the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do,” Johnson said.
“Any assets they hold in the UK will be frozen and the individuals concerned will be banned from travelling here,” Johnson said of the individuals being sanctioned.
Some British lawmakers asked Johnson to be tougher on Russian money, even demanding that Russian oligarchs be ejected from Britain and Russian money be dug out of the City of London.
Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into London and Britain’s overseas territories from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and London has become the Western city of choice for the super-wealthy of Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Britain has threatened to cut off Russian companies’ access to U.S. dollars and British pounds, blocking them from raising capital in London and to expose what Johnson calls the “Russian doll” of property and company ownership.
Though Johnson put Putin on warning that more sanctions would follow, Britain’s initial sanctions package goes little further than the United States which in 2014 sanctioned Timchenko and the Rotenbergs.
Britain said that Timchenko, one of the founders of Gunvor trading company, was a major shareholder in Bank Rossiya, itself a stakeholder in National Media Group which supported the destabilisation of Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Bank Rossiya has supported the consolidation of Crimea into the Russian Federation by integrating the financial system following the annexation of Crimea,” Britain said.
Timchenko, who Forbes says is worth $23.5 billion, is a close ally of Russian President Putin, as are the Rotenbergs, Johnson said.
Johnson said Europe had failed to wean itself off Russian energy and saluted Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to halt the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asked Johnson to go further on sanctions, and cautioned that China would be watching the West’s response carefully.
“They need to feel the pain of the first part of this decision,” Duncan Smith said. “China will watch this and look at Taiwan.”
“We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan,” Johnson said. “Putin is establishing the pretext for a full scale offensive.”
Russia’s once mighty superpower economy is now smaller than Italy’s based on IMF data, with a nominal GDP of around $1.7 trillion.