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23 February 2022

How the US took the lead on Russia sanctions

Since 2016 the US has targeted more than three times as many Russian entities as the UK and EU combined.

By Ben van der Merwe

Boris Johnson is facing pressure from MPs to place further sanctions on Russia following its invasion of eastern Ukraine. The initial measures announced yesterday (22 February) target three oligarchs and five banks. The US, by contrast, has announced sanctions targeting 40 individuals, banks and corporations.

It hasn’t always been this way. In 2014 it was David Cameron’s government that led the international economic response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Within a year the UK had imposed sanctions on 120 Russian entities, more than the EU and US combined.

Since 2016, however, the US has consistently taken the most aggressive approach of the three Western allies, sanctioning more than three times as many Russian entities as the UK and EU combined.


At Prime Minister’s Questions today Boris Johnson was criticised by both Labour and Conservative MPs for not taking a tougher response to Russia’s recognition of two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and its movement of troops into the area.

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said: “A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrications. If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs.”

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said this morning that the UK was ready to “escalate” sanctions in the event of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and that “nothing would be off the table”.

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