Boris Johnson has defended Britain's sanctions against Russia, rejecting the charge that they are inadequate and asserting that Britain is "out in front" in responding to Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine. He promised more military support for the government in Kyiv, including lethal, defensive equipment, and said more financial sanctions were on the way.
“I do not think people quite realise that the UK is out in front. We have sanctioned 275 individuals already, and yesterday we announced measures that place banks worth £37 billion under sanctions, in addition to more oligarchs. There is more to come. We will be stopping Russia raising sovereign debt, and we will be stopping Russian companies raising money or, as I said yesterday, even clearing in sterling and dollars on international markets,” he told the House of Commons.
Labour leader Keir Starmer offered his party's support for the sanctions but urged the prime minister to go further, warning that he might unintentionally be sending the wrong message to Mr Putin. Sir Keir called on Mr Johnson to bring forward his full package of sanctions, including excluding Russia from financial mechanisms and a ban on trading in Russian sovereign debt.
Sir Keir also offered Labour’s support for an economic crime Bill to stop people from concealing the real beneficial ownership of property and companies. Mr Johnson said such a Bill would be introduced later this year but he insisted that his government was already taking tough action against dirty money linked to Mr Putin’s associates.
“I do not think any government could conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money, and that is what we are going to do. We can be proud of what we have already done and the measures we have set out,” he said.
“People around the world can see that the UK was the first to call out what President Putin was doing in Ukraine. We have been instrumental in bringing the western world together in lockstep to deal with the problem – to bring together the economic package of sanctions that I have set out.”
Labour has called on the government to take action against the Russian television network RT which is licensed to broadcast in Britain by the regulator Ofcom. Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has written to Ofcom calling for a review of RT's permission to broadcast, accusing the channel of disseminating harmful disinformation.
“Recognising the serious nature of the crisis in Ukraine, we have been keeping the situation under close review and have already stepped up our oversight of coverage of these events by broadcasters in the UK,” she said.
“We are expediting complaints in this area as a matter of urgency and we will not hesitate to take swift action where necessary. I am confident that we have the full range of enforcement tools at our disposal and our track record shows that when we find a breach of our rules, we can and do take action. As always we will be fully transparent about any investigations we open, and the outcomes of those.”
When Germany revoked RT's licence, Russia expelled the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the foreign ministry in Moscow warned on Wednesday that any British action against Russian media would be met with swift retaliation.