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Russia: Sanctions

Volume 827: debated on Monday 30 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the United Kingdom’s sanctions on Russia’s operational capabilities against Ukraine.

My Lords, Russia is struggling militarily and is isolated internationally. It faces enormous replenishment challenges following major equipment losses and high rates of munition expenditure. The United Kingdom and its partners are weakening Russia’s military by sanctioning key defence organisations and banning the export of critical technologies. Our designations of individuals and military entities undermines Russia’s war effort, addressing alleged war crimes. We will continue to hold Mr Putin to account and stand up for freedom and human rights.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering the Question, although I am not sure that the Ukrainians feel as confident as he is that the Russians are hampered by the sanctions. Government and Select Committee reports stress that sanctions are effective if they have clear objectives, well-defined demands and an exit strategy. Is His Majesty’s Government following that wise advice?

My Lords, our sanctions policy, first and foremost, is very much focused on addressing all the issues that I have already outlined and, of course, reflects the very points that the noble and gallant Lord raised. In this regard, we are having an impact on the Russian military capability and on the Russian economy. He mentioned the Ukrainian perspective; we are working hand in glove with the Ukrainians and are in regular contact with them. Only last week, I attended a G7 meeting virtually, where we were looking at energy issues, focusing on Ukrainian need, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba was also present.

My Lords, to what extent are sanctions against Russia being evaded and what can we do to prevent that?

My Lords, the best way to ensure that sanctions are working effectively, as I have said every time that we issue a sanction on any individual or organisation, is to ensure that it is done in co-ordination with our key partners. That includes working very much together with the United States, Canada and the European Union. It is also about ensuring that where we see an issue of circumvention being highlighted, for example, we work with key partners such as the G7, and I assure my noble friend that we are doing so.

My Lords, can I take that a little further? Enforcement is absolutely key, so can the Minister assure us that we have the capability, working with our allies, to ensure proper enforcement of sanctions? Can he also tell us what message he believes that it sends to Ukraine and our allies when our own Treasury helped one of Putin’s most notorious warmongers to evade sanctions?

My Lords, I will start with the noble Lord’s second point, without going into the specifics of the case. He will be aware that there is a right to legal redress, as is right in our own sanctions policy as opposed to those imposed by other countries on our parliamentarians. My noble friend Lady Penn also dealt with that issue and His Majesty’s Treasury is very much seized with it. We will continue to work with international partners, particularly the G7, to ensure the effective implementation of sanctions because there are undoubtedly ways of overcoming them. There will be new and novel ways to circumvent every sanction imposed and we need to ensure, in a co-ordinated fashion, that we address those.

My Lords, as the Minister knows, we have supported this additional capability and the sanctions, but he also knows of my concerns that they are being offset. Regrettably, Russia is not as isolated as the Minister asserted earlier. I hope he will agree that after what we thought was an extremely successful state visit by the President of South Africa, it was troubling to see the red carpet laid out recently in Pretoria for Sergei Lavrov. When the Foreign Minister of South Africa was asked if she would repeat that country’s position of calling for a withdrawal by Russia from Ukraine, she said that it was simplistic and infantile. Will the Minister please agree that the joint naval exercises between South Africa, China and Russia on 24 February are not in our strategic interests, and are we making that message clear?

My Lords, the assessment of the Foreign Minister of South Africa was not something I agree with. We are of course watching the situation closely and I agree with the assessment of the noble Lord. When you see one of our key partners in Africa, which is also a member of the Commonwealth, carrying out such exercises and welcoming the Russian Foreign Minister, that is a cause for concern. I assure the noble Lord that we have made our views clear.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that action to implement sanctions successfully has to be collective and not separate? What exists in the way of collective machinery among the main partners in those sanctions to ensure that the large numbers of people working in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran to evade such sanctions do not succeed?

My Lords, I agree. That is why, as I have said, we are working in close co-ordination with our key partners. Where we see circumvention we are acting in a co-ordinated fashion, including through the G7, to ensure that those issues can be addressed. Sanctions are there for a reason: to prevent certain individuals and organisations continuing their work, by penalising them quite directly. It is our job as part of British diplomacy, along with our key partners, to ensure that this message is heard around the world.

My Lords, sometimes one of the unintended consequences of sanctions is that they affect opposition movements and civil society in-country. Is my noble friend the Minister aware of any of those unintended consequences, and how has the sanctions regime been adjusted to avoid them?

My noble friend is correct to say that, when we impose sanctions, our argument or challenge is not with the ordinary citizens of countries. That is why we have worked with international partners. For example, there is a specific humanitarian carve-out on sanctions imposed internationally which allows essential humanitarian aid to be provided.

My Lords, now that Ukraine is to receive tanks, it is seeking further fighter jets. What is His Majesty’s Government’s attitude to that request?

My Lords, I will not go into specifics, but the noble Lord will be aware that we work in a very co-ordinated fashion. We work very closely with the Ukrainian Government to ensure that their military requests and priorities are not only understood but that we work in co-ordination to best support them. Indeed, the UK was the first to offer tanks, which resulted in other countries following suit. It is important that we act in a co-ordinated manner.

My Lords, the list of individuals and entities currently sanctioned stands at 3,778 worldwide. It grows every year, but we are never told who is removed from it. Will the Minister give us the assurance that the Government will publish a list of those who have been removed from sanctions since 2001, so that the House is better able to assess the efficacy of the sanctions regime in meeting its objectives?

My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that, when we were taking through the sanctions and anti-money laundering legislation, part of that was to ensure a proper and structured review by the Government of those sanctioned. That is part of our legislative process. Providing details of every single individual or organisation would create more work for the Government than necessary, and the cost would be uneconomical. However, within our sanctions policy, when someone or an organisation first has a sanction imposed, there is a way for them to appeal and challenge it. Those sanctions are reviewed on a regular basis.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord has been able to tell us about the efficacy of sanctions impacting Russian GDP, will he return to the question of circumvention which has been raised with him? In particular, he will have noted that Chinese currency is being used to break regulations and sanctions on currency rules. He will have also seen the sale of Shahed missiles from Iran to Russia, which are being used to pummel and pound the infrastructure in Ukraine, terrorising the people there. How are we using Magnitsky sanctions to further identify those who broker such deals?

My Lords, there is a series of sanctions. The noble Lord spoke of the Magnitsky sanctions. We have exercised that type of sanction, particularly where we see human rights abuses taking place. That will continue as part of what we seek to do. On the issue of circumvention, he specifically raised how currencies are used, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has also raised this. It is important that we use our good offices and work with key markets to ensure that it is made clear that circumvention is an abuse of laws of countries. The sanctions are imposed for a reason—to ensure, in the case of Ukraine, that those responsible for this illegal war are held to account.