Ukraine-Russia conflict: Full asset freeze on all Russian banks within days as UK introduces tougher sanctions

There will be a “full asset freeze” on all Russian banks within days, while a ban on exports of certain technological equipment to Russia will be introduced under tougher new sanctions introduced by the United Kingdom.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss vowed Vladimir Putin "must lose" as she also announced a ruling to prevent Russian banks from clearing payments in Sterling.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Russian president had made a “colossal mistake” in invading Ukraine as he praised the country for its fierce resistance.

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Ms Truss said state-owned Sberbank would be hit with the sterling ban as soon as the powers come into force, but warned the UK would have to undergo “economic hardship” as a result.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced tougher sanctions.Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced tougher sanctions.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced tougher sanctions.

The announcement of new sanctions came as:

– Home secretary Priti Patel ruled out a visa waiver for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict, citing fears Moscow’s troops and extremists could come to the UK, as she came under pressure to help more people reach safety in Britain;

– Transport secretary Grant Shapps asked all UK ports to deny access to Russian flagged, registered or operated vessels;

– Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said 16 children had been killed and 45 injured during the Russian invasion;

– Average UK petrol prices soared above £1.51 for the first time after oil prices hit an eight-year high over concerns about the reliability of supplies;

– The sanctions imposed by Britain and allies appear to be having an impact, with the rouble sinking by nearly 26 per cent against the US dollar by Monday morning;

– Switzerland strayed from its history of neutrality to adopt EU sanctions against Russia, in a major step expected to curtail the ability of rich Russians to store their wealth in the country.

Ms Truss announced a full asset freeze on three further Russian banks – VEB, Sovcombank and Otkritie – and said Britain would target a “hit list” of oligarchs, focusing on “their houses, their yachts and every aspect of their lives”.

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She said: "With over 50 per cent of Russian trade denominated in dollars or sterling, our co-ordinated action with the United States will damage Russia's ability to trade with the world.”

The foreign secretary added: "We've already put in place the largest package of sanctions in our history, but we are determined to go much much further. We want a situation where they can't access their funds, their trade can’t flow, their ships can't dock and their planes can't land.

"We will bring in a full asset freeze on all Russian banks in days, looking to co-ordinate with our allies.

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"The UK and our allies will have to undergo some economic hardship as a result of our sanctions, but our hardships are nothing compared to those endured by the people of Ukraine."

Ms Truss said the ban on UK exports to Russia would include high-end technological equipment such as marine and navigation equipment, which "will blunt Russia's military industrial capabilities and act as a drag on Russia's economy for years to come".

The Treasury said it had targeted Russia's central bank with sanctions in a response co-ordinated with US and European allies.

The foreign secretary said the war could last "months and years", but vowed to Ukraine the UK would "suffer economic sacrifices to support you, however long it takes".

The statement, delivered to the House of Commons, came as the the Foreign Office advised Britons against all travel to Russia because of the "lack of available flight options to return to the UK, and the increased volatility in the Russian economy".

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Mr Johnson will continue his diplomatic push on Tuesday by travelling to Poland and Estonia for meetings with his counterparts and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg.

At a Cabinet meeting on Monday, Mr Johnson and ministers received a briefing on the scale of discontent among the Russian people to the Kremlin’s attack on their neighbouring nation.

Mr Johnson said: “It is becoming clearer with each day that Putin had made a colossal mistake, believing that the guns of his tanks would be garlanded with roses when instead the Ukrainian people had put up a fierce resistance in defence of their homeland.”

Downing Street said Mr Johnson discussed the latest intelligence suggesting Russia’s advance had been “hampered by logistical problems and the heroic efforts of the Ukrainian military who are inflicting significant casualties on Russian troops”.

The Cabinet was updated by the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir Simon Gass, and the Chief of the Defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who No. 10 said discussed “the discontent among many of the Russian people including an anti-war petition that has attracted around a million signatures”.

With western sanctions biting, the Russian central bank was forced to sharply raise its key interest rate to save the rouble from collapse. The Russian currency slumped by 40 per cent in early trading.

Despite the continued assault, Ukraine agreed to talks with Moscow and sent a delegation to the border with Belarus for Monday’s meeting.

Officials from both sides returned to their respective capitals on Monday night following the round of peace talks, saying they would speak more in coming days.

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Officials from both countries said the sides could hold more negotiations amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation, said "as every hour of conflict brings new casualties among Ukrainian soldiers, we are definitely interested in reaching any agreements as soon as possible".

"But those agreements should be for the benefit of both sides," he said.

The meeting took place at the Rumyantsev-Paskevich residence in Gomel, Belarus.

The Kremlin had earlier blamed remarks from Ms Truss for Mr Putin ordering Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert.

The Russian president said he had placed Moscow’s nuclear forces on a “special regime of combat duty” in response to “aggressive statements” from members of the Nato defence alliance.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov went further on Monday, blaming the escalation during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Ms Truss.

“Statements were made by various representatives at various levels on possible altercations or even collisions and clashes between Nato and Russia,” he told a press briefing.

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“We believe that such statements are absolutely unacceptable. I would not call the authors of these statements by name, although it was the British foreign minister.”

It was not clear what statements the Kremlin was referring to.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “Whatever political disagreements any of us have with Liz Truss – and I have many deep differences with her – we should not fall for this transparent Russian attempt to divert.

“The only person responsible for Putin’s despicable nuclear threat is Putin.”

The Foreign Office also said the comments from Mr Peskov were a “clear attempt to distract from Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.

An ally of Ms Truss said: “Nothing Liz has said warrants that sort of escalation. It’s clearly designed to distract from the situation on the ground in Ukraine.”

Ahead of Mr Putin’s escalation on Sunday, Ms Truss had told Sky News the “long-running conflict is about freedom and democracy in Europe”.

“If we don’t stop Putin in Ukraine we are going to see others under threat – the Baltics, Poland, Moldova, and it could end up in a conflict with Nato,” she said.

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Mr Johnson similarly dismissed the nuclear alert as a “distraction” from the struggle Russian troops were facing amid fierce resistance in Ukraine.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said his 12-year-old son had called him worried about the step, as he downplayed the threat’s significance.

“We don’t see or recognise in the sort of phrase or the status he described as anything that is a change to what they have currently as their nuclear posture,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“This is predominantly about Putin putting it on the table just to remind people, remind the world, that he has a deterrent.”

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