Britain has said it plans to unveil legislation that would allow it to impose sanctions on tycoons and companies with perceived links to the Kremlin in response to any new Russian attack on Ukraine.
British foreign secretary Liz Truss said the legislation would be presented this week, amid continuing diplomatic efforts to avert what the United States and Britain say could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine in the near future.
Moscow has sent some 100,000 troops and heavy weapons towards Ukraine in recent weeks, and threatened to take “military-technical” measures unless the West meets its security demands – the central elements of which have been dismissed as “non-starters” by Washington.
“What the legislation enables us to do is hit a much wider variety of targets. So there can be nobody who thinks that they will be immune to those sanctions,” Ms Truss told Sky News on Sunday.
"Any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia would be able to be targeted so there will be nowhere to hide for Putin's oligarchs, for Russian companies involved in propping up the Russian state," she added.
British prime minister Boris Johnson, under major political pressure at home, is expected to travel to eastern Europe this week and speak to Russian president Vladimir Putin about the crisis around Ukraine; Ms Truss said she would visit Moscow "within the next fortnight".
The US and the European Union have also pledged to impose deeply damaging economic sanctions on Russia if it launches a new attack on Ukraine, where it annexed Crimea in 2014 and fomented a war in the eastern Donbas region that has now killed 14,000 people.
US senators were also reportedly close to agreeing a new package of sanctions against Russia on Sunday.
Democratic senator Bob Menendez told CNN there was "an incredible bipartisan resolve for support of Ukraine, an incredibly strong bipartisan resolve to have severe consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine, and, in some cases, for what it has already done."
Moscow says it feels threatened by Ukraine’s – albeit distant – Nato membership ambitions, and by the possibility of US missiles being stationed there and on the territory of current members of the military alliance.
The US and Nato have rejected Russian calls for the alliance to close its doors to new members and to withdraw its forces from eastern Europe, however.
"We are sending an official request to our [western] colleagues . . . urging them to explain how they intend to implement [their] commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday.
“If they do not intend to do so, then they should explain why. This will be a key question in determining our future proposals, which we will report to the Russian president,” he added.
Nato “has already come close to Ukraine. They also want to drag this country there . . . Although everyone understands that Ukraine is not ready and could make no contribution to strengthening Nato security.” Mr Lavrov said.
Ukrainian leaders insist a major Russian attack is not imminent, but have welcomed an acceleration of arms deliveries from western allies in recent weeks.