Foreign secretary asserts western solidarity against Putin’s threats, but MPs challenge her on Russian influence in UK
Massive coordinated sanctions threatened against Russia if it launches military action against Ukraine will hit the high-level Russian elite and its ability to carry out financial transactions, Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, told MPs on Thursday, as she warned the west could not afford to be seen to reward Moscow in crucial talks next week.
Her remarks appear indirectly to confirm that if Russia mounts an incursion into Ukraine it could be excluded from Swift, the messaging network used by 11,000 banks in 200 countries to make cross-border payments.
The US and its Nato allies have said repeatedly it has a package of massive sanctions ready to be launched if Russia presses ahead with an invasion, but has refused to spell out details in public. Truss said: “The UK is working with our partners on these sanctions, including high-impact measures targeting the Russian financial sector and individuals.” She also disclosed she will travel to Ukraine next month.
But her carefully acquired “Iron Lady” image was undermined as she repeatedly came under cross-party pressure about lax anti-money laundering laws in the UK, including the failure to establish a public register of beneficial ownership of property in the UK or in UK overseas territories.
Chris Bryant, a Labour member of the foreign affairs select committee, said it was “inexplicable and entirely hypocritical” that the government was so slow to clean up the banking system. Kevan Jones, a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, said only one recommendation of the committee’s landmark report concerning Russian influence in the UK had been implemented by the government, concerning a register of interests in the Lords.
Truss said 25 Russian nationals have been subject to UK sanctions and the UK will continue to review this legislation.
Liberal Democrat MPs called for a windfall tax on Gazprom, the hugely profitable Russia-based gas company which has its trading arm in the UK.
Despite the divisions over London’s role in enabling the Russian elite, the shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, said the UK parliament was united in its condemnation of Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine. He said: “this is a moment of acute danger” and added Russia’s demands “are completely incompatible with the sovereignty of Nato allies and the independence of Ukraine”.
Truss was making a Commons statement before a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday, a final conference amongst western nations before they hold a string of meetings with Russia next week, including a bilateral meeting between the US and Russia on future security relations on Monday.
Truss said these meetings were “absolutely critical for peace and security in Europe”, adding they were in her view about insisting Russia abide by its past commitments concerning Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Truss has been leading the calls in Europe to take a tough line with Russia, insisting it is vital that the west does not succumb to the false Russian narrative that Nato is an offensive alliance or a threat to Moscow. She argued it would be wrong to remove from Ukraine the right to join Nato, saying: “The UK remains supportive of Ukraine’s Nato membership aspirations in line with the 2008 Bucharest summit declaration.”
She added: “There is no justification whatsoever for Russia’s bellicose stance towards Ukraine. It is unprovoked and it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour by the Kremlin, reliant on disinformation and mistrust to seek to gain an upper hand.”
UK diplomats are still evaluating the significance for Ukraine of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sending troops to quell protests in Kazakhstan, a move that leaves Russia exposed militarily on two fronts.
She also urged Germany to end its strategic dependence on Russian gas, symbolised by the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, saying it was part of a wider problem of the west’s dependence on the resources of autocrats.
In Washington the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he could not envisage gas ever flowing through Nord Stream 2 if Russia invaded Ukraine. He was speaking alongside the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, an opponent of the pipeline who has to navigate support for the project from the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz.