Britain on Tuesday imposed sanctions on Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaires with close links to Vladimir Putin after the Russian president deployed military forces into two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia was heading towards “pariah status” and that the world must now brace for the next stage of Putin’s plan, saying that the Kremlin was laying the ground for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Johnson told parliament that five banks – Rossiya, IS Bank, GenBank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank – were being sanctioned, along with three people – Timchenko, and the brothers Igor and Boris Rotenberg.
The British government said Timchenko, one of the founders of the Gunvor trading company, was a major shareholder in Bank Rossiya, itself a stakeholder in National Media Group which supported the destabilisation of Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Bank Rossiya has supported the consolidation of Crimea into the Russian Federation by integrating the financial system following the annexation of Crimea,” said a statement on the government web page listing the sanctions.
Timchenko is a close ally of Putin, as are the Rotenbergs, Johnson said.
But the Conservative prime minister refrained from imposing limits on Russia’s biggest state banks, cutting off capital for Russian companies or ejecting other prominent so-called Russian oligarchs from Britain.
“This is the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do,” Johnson said.
“It is absolutely vital that we hold in reserve further powerful sanctions…in view of what President Putin may do next.
“We want to stop Russian companies from being able to raise funds in sterling or indeed in dollars,” Johnson said.
Many British lawmakers asked Johnson to be tougher on Russian money, even demanding that Russian oligarchs be ejected from Britain and Russian money be dug out of the City of London.
Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into London and Britain’s overseas territories from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and London has become the Western city of choice for the super-wealthy of Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Though Johnson put Putin on warning that more sanctions would follow, Britain’s initial sanctions package goes little further than the United States which in 2014 and 2018 sanctioned Timchenko and the Rotenbergs.
“The risk is that today’s slap on the wrist will not deter anything,” opposition Labour Party lawmaker Liam Byrne said.
“The prime minister’s got to recognise that pulling our punches does not work with President Putin.
A Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Britain would also limit Russian access to sovereign debt markets and its ability to clear transactions.
Treasury said in 2014 that the shareholders of Bank Rossiya included members of Putin’s inner circle.
The Treasury said Boris Rotenberg had amassed a fortune under Putin.
Johnson said Europe had failed to wean itself off Russian energy and saluted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asked Johnson to go further on sanctions and said that China would be watching the West’s response carefully.
Britain sanctions Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko and five banks