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9th Aug 2020

UK debates post-Brexit Russia sanctions

  • Russia sanctions could become Brexit "bargaining chip" on a united EU foreign policy (Photo: House of Commons)

British MPs believe the UK should start confiscating individual Russians’ wealth instead of relying on economic sanctions to alter the Kremlin’s behaviour.

“Individuals associated with the Putin regime who are reportedly responsible for gross human rights abuses or violations use British financial and legal services, invest in British property, holiday in the UK and send their children to British schools,” the House of Commons foreign affairs committee said in a report on Thursday (2 March).

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  • Targeting Putin's close associates could "influence those people’s behaviour" (Photo: kremlin.ru)

“The UK government could influence those people’s behaviour by introducing and utilising the civil recovery powers set out in the criminal finances bill to seize assets held in the UK,” it added.

The finances bill was passed by parliament on 21 February.

The UK imposed economic sanctions on Russia as part of the EU in 2014 over its invasion of Ukraine.

It also imposed visa bans and asset freezes on almost 150 Russians, including friends, aides, and officials of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, as part of the EU.

The House of Commons report said “it may be increasingly difficult to sustain a unified Western position on Ukraine-related [economic] sanctions”, however.

“The UK faces the possibility of becoming an isolated actor supporting a policy towards Russia that is failing,” it said.

It said the French elections, with contain two Russia-friendly frontrunners, and US president Donald Trump, who has said he wanted to make “deals” with Russia, were a risk.

It said Russia sanctions could “become a bargaining point during Brexit negotiations” and urged the foreign office to “clarify how the UK would impose sanctions post-Brexit”.

It also urged British diplomats to “clarify whether the Ukraine-EU association agreement will apply to UK-Ukraine … relations post-Brexit.”

The report said the “practical effect of economic sanctions on Russian decision-making is doubtful”.

But it said it would be a mistake to drop sanctions altogether unless Russia stopped its aggression in east Ukraine.

“If you were to lift them, it would set them free and, I think, release a lot of activity, which we would regret,” Alan Duncan, Britain’s deputy foreign minister, told the MPs in a hearing.

“The withdrawal of the existing sanctions should be linked to Russian compliance with its obligations toward Ukraine, and should not be offered in exchange for Russian co-operation in other areas,” the report said.

Russia’s obligations were sketched out in the so-called Minsk ceasefire accords.

But the MPs said these were too vaguely worded and that the foreign office “should be open to considering any proposals that the Russian government may advance to resolve the situation in Ukraine outside the Minsk II process”.

Propaganda

The report said the rise of Russian “fake news” in the UK, in media such as RT and Sputnik, was a “real concern”.

“The UK regulator should continue to take action against examples of outright falsehoods in Russian state-sponsored broadcasting,” it said.

It indicated that the criminal finances bill could also target Russians who were deemed responsible for war crimes in Syria.

But it warned the British government against giving Russia a pretext to say that it was being unfairly stigmatised.

“If the government continues to allege that Russia has committed war crimes in Syria without providing a basis for its charge, it risks bolstering the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is held to unfair double standards”, it said.

With Russia to host the football World Cup next year, the MPs said there should be no political boycott.

Recalling recent Russian football hooligan violence against British fans and Russian athlete doping scandals, they said that if Moscow mismanaged the sporting event, then British ministers and VIPs should stay away, however.

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