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25 February 2022

Tom Tugendhat: The West should expel Russian ambassadors and agents

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman on why Boris Johnson’s government needs to do much more to punish Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

By Freddie Hayward

Western countries should expel Russian ambassadors and intelligence operatives in response to the invasion of Ukraine, Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has told the New Statesman.

The British government announced a wide-ranging set of sanctions yesterday (24 February) alongside its Western allies that included freezing the assets of all major Russian banks and banning hi-tech exports.

Although Tugendhat was encouraged by Boris Johnson’s words, he said he was withholding judgement until they were acted on. “Let’s see the asset seizures,” he said. “Let’s see the expulsions from not just the United Kingdom but from other European countries.” He said he “would like to see Russian ambassadors and intelligence operators expelled from western countries”.

Tugendhat is a rising figure in the Conservative Party and the only MP so far to announce that they will stand in the next Conservative leadership election. A former soldier, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has been a vocal advocate for the Ukrainian government and believes the UK should send more military equipment.

Tugendhat warned that other countries may interpret Russia’s invasion as a global validation of changing borders by force. Indeed, on the day of Russia’s invasion, Chinese jets flew into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. China claims Taiwan as part of its own territory and has vowed to take it back, by force if necessary.

[See also: Why did it take us so long to act against Putin?]

Tugendhat, a vocal critic of the Chinese regime, said earlier in the week that China was watching to see how the crisis would unfold. The Chinese government has refused to call Russia’s actions in Ukraine an “invasion” and said it understands Russia’s “legitimate concerns” over security. Following the Beijing Winter Olympics, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the presidents of Russia and China, announced a strategic partnership intended to counter American influence. 

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Tugendhat, however, said he was relieved at “how badly China’s actions have gone down in Russia”, remarking that the Putin regime was hoping for more vocal support. “From the reports I’m getting from Moscow, China has not been seen as quite as reliable an ally as they hoped. Of course recognising breakaway republics or breakaway provinces [as Russia has done in eastern Ukraine] is something that China itself is very worried about.”

The rhetoric from certain MPs in relation to Ukraine has grown increasingly forceful in recent days. David Davis, a senior Tory MP, has called for the UK to provide air support to Ukraine. In the Commons yesterday, Tugendhat seemed to call for the UK to expel all Russian citizens. He said: “Given that a hostile state has launched an act of war, we can act now. We can freeze Russian assets in this country — all of them. We can expel Russian citizens — all of them.”

When asked about his comments, Tugendhat clarified that he was referring to “all Russian citizens connected to the Putin regime. It’s not a blanket expulsion.” He said that it would be “absolutely normal” for those connected to the Putin regime to be expelled in the current circumstances. The government should be “extremely careful” about issuing “any visas to any Russian citizen at all”. Tugendhat would also like to see the Treason Act updated to charge those “who seek to undermine the security and safety of the British people”.

Asked if he recognised the risk of conflating the Putin regime with all Russians, he replied: “I recognise the fact that a lot of Russian people have been taken hostage by Putin’s Russia but, sadly, a lot of Russian citizens are being used by Putin to hide assets overseas.”

[See also: Why Putin invaded Ukraine]

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