Putin must stop supporting Ukraine rebels, says Cameron

British prime minister threatens tougher sanctions on Russia

David  Cameron told MPs the international community has “not done enough” to show that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, including the seizure of the Crimea, “cannot be allowed to stand”. Photograph: Getty

David Cameron told MPs the international community has “not done enough” to show that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, including the seizure of the Crimea, “cannot be allowed to stand”. Photograph: Getty

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:00

Russian president Vladimir Putin must immediately stop supporting pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists and help recover the bodies of those killed in the Malaysia Airlines tragedy or face tougher sanctions, Britain will demand today.

However, the shape of any proposed sanctions is unclear, with Downing Street acknowledging it has only agreement to discuss the changes with Paris and Berlin, in advance of today’s EU meeting of foreign ministers.

The British are proposing the introduction of so-called “Tier 3” sanctions, which would block Russian companies from selling oil or gas, or carrying out financial trading – effectively cutting Russia off from EU markets industry by industry. The argument being made by London is that the EU has been too slow and weak to stand up to Mr Putin since the Ukrainian crisis began, thus increasing his appetite.

London repeatedly emphasised yesterday that the pain caused by EU sanctions will have to be shared as equally as possible among EU states.

Russian gas

Some of them, like Italy and countries in eastern Europe, are heavily dependent on Russian gas supplies; the Germans have major business dealings with Russia, while London is the financial centre most favoured by Russia’s wealthy.

The difficulty in securing agreement within the EU is illustrated by Russia’s €1.6 billion purchase of Mistral naval assault vessels from France – a contract Paris dearly wants to fulfil because of the shipyards depending on it. Earlier, Downing Street said defence sanctions would affect only future contracts, not existing ones, but Mr Cameron went much further in the Commons saying “frankly, it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like that”.

Liberal Democrats deputy prime minister Nick Clegg acknowledged the short-term costs: “But a failure to act with the right collective resolve in the EU, in my view, has not served us well in the last seven months,” he declared.

Illustrating the unity in London on the issue, Mr Cameron told MPs the international community has “not done enough” to show that Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, including the seizure of the Crimea, “cannot be allowed to stand”. EU foreign ministers, he said, “must” tighten and extend sanctions “unless and until President Putin ceases all support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine and halts the supply of arms across the Russian border”.

Former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind said the visa bans and asset freezes imposed after the Crimean annexation have been “useless”, adding that Russia will only heed widespread economic sanctions.

Mr Cameron said: “The world is watching – and President Putin faces a clear choice in how he decides to respond to this appalling tragedy.

“I hope that he will use this moment to find a path out of this festering and dangerous crisis by ending Russia’s support for the separatists,” he said.