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25 February 2022

How has the UK responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?

Boris Johnson has announced restrictions against the state, but is trying to balance punishing Putin with the economic fallout that sanctions inevitably bring.

By Freddie Hayward

Boris Johnson announced a large package of sanctions yesterday in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as fierce fighting continues throughout the country. All major Russian banks will have their assets frozen and new legislation will prevent the Russian state from raising funds on UK markets. Meanwhile, high-tech exports to Russia will be curbed and the airline Aeroflot will be prevented from landing in the UK.

The sanctions were more severe than those announced on Tuesday, however, as Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Conservative MP, told me late last night, their impact will depend on strict implementation and the swift seizure of assets. A vocal critic of Tuesday’s meagre sanctions package, Tugendhat said that he now wanted to see Russian ambassadors and intelligence operators expelled from Western countries. As Ailbhe Rea noted yesterday, the crisis demands politicians maintain a tone of unity, but that does not mean they will refrain from critiquing the government’s response.

[See also: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changes everything]

Part of the reason why the sanctions have not been as severe as some MPs would like is the government’s decision to act in concert with its allies. Johnson made his announcement shortly after a meeting of G7 leaders yesterday and the EU and United States later declared they were taking similar measures. Yet certain EU members had reservations over shutting Russia out of the Swift bank payments mechanism, while oil and gas imports were left untouched.

The UK and its allies are trying to balance punishing Putin for his aggression with the economic fallout that sanctions inevitably bring. The measures will undermine a global economy recovering from the pandemic as markets were roiled around the world. Inflation is set to worsen as the price of a barrel of oil topped $100 dollars yesterday (see chart below), aggravating the cost-of-living crisis for many people. 

The impact on the lives of ordinary people was a noticeable absence from the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday. With households already struggling with growing costs, it will only damage the government further if it doesn’t explain the link between the war in Ukraine and people’s rising monthly bills, let alone mitigate the problem itself.

[See also: “There is no enforcement”: the awkward truth about the UK’s sanctions on Russia]

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