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Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, this instrument contains measures to deter Russia from continuing its illegal invasion of Ukraine. Specifically, it targets the key sources of revenue that Mr Putin uses to execute the invasion. It was laid on 28 February 2024 under powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and entered into force on 1 March 2024. The instrument has been considered and not reported by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. The instrument contains trade measures developed in close co-ordination with our G7 allies. The regulations ratchet up the pressure on Russia’s war machine and economy as part of the most severe package of economic sanctions that country has ever faced.

In 2022, Russia earned an estimated $3.5 billion from the export of diamonds. The UK was among the first to address this income stream by sanctioning Alrosa, the largest state-owned Russian diamond producer—estimated to hold a 30% share in the global diamond market—and its then CEO, Sergey Ivanov. Following this, we placed an additional tariff of 35 percentage points on imports of Russian diamonds in April 2022. On 1 January this year, we acted to reduce this income stream to the Russian regime by completely banning the import of diamonds into the UK from Russia. On 24 February, among a package of 50 new sanctions to mark the second year of the invasion, we sanctioned two further Russian diamond companies and five individuals, including Pavel Alekseevich Marinychev, the new CEO of Alrosa.

Today, we go even further. As announced in December, the G7 is acting together to curtail the flow of Russian diamonds into the world’s largest consumer market of diamonds. This legislation, prepared in close co-ordination with our G7 partners, bans the import of Russian diamonds processed in third countries. Previously, a rough Russian stone could be processed elsewhere, in effect transforming the stone’s origin. It will now remain banned regardless of any intermediate destination.

This will first apply to stones equal to or larger than 1 carat or equivalent to 0.2 grams or larger from 1 March 2024. From 1 September this year, it will drop to stones equal to or larger than 0.5 carats or equivalent to 0.1 grams or larger. The legislation will also ban providing technical assistance, brokering and financial services in connection with the import of third-country processed Russian diamonds.

I have alluded to the complex, technical nature of this ban, and its implementation and enforcement will remain a challenge due to the difficulties involved in determining the source of a processed stone. It has been many months in the making and will require more time to ensure that implementation of these measures strikes the right balance between removing Russian diamonds from the G7 supply chain and avoiding unintended consequences to industry and producer nations. However, it also stands as a testament to the continued appetite to deny Mr Putin funds for his illegal invasion, not just here in the UK but with our international partners and allies.

To conclude, these latest measures demonstrate our determination to target those who participate in, or facilitate, Russia’s illegal war. Overall, the UK has sanctioned more than 2,000 individuals and entities, of which 1,700 individuals were sanctioned since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. More than £20 billion-worth of UK-Russia trade is now under sanction, resulting in a 99.64% fall in Russian imports into the UK. If we compare exports one year before and after the invasion, there has been a 77% fall in UK exports to Russia. This shows that sanctions are working. Russia is increasingly isolated, cut off from western markets, services, and supply chains. Key sectors of the Russian economy have fallen off a cliff and its economic outlook remains bleak.

The United Kingdom Government will continue to use sanctions to ramp up the pressure until Mr Putin ends his illegal invasion of Ukraine. Sanctions are working and the effects are cumulative; we must stay the course and keep up the strong work we have delivered over the last two years, working in tandem with our key partners and allies. We welcome the clear and continued cross-party support for this action, and I beg to move.

My Lords, obviously, from these Benches—or this Bench; it is just me—we welcome any extension of sanctions. As the noble Lord pointed out, since the illegal invasion of Ukraine, it has been necessary and appropriate to implement a wide range of sanctions, against both individuals and companies.

However, the Minister has already alluded to the fact that there is a degree of complexity with these particular sanctions. I therefore have a range of questions that are about not just sanctions with our G7 partners but looking more broadly at our European neighbours and Commonwealth countries, as well as at the impact on British companies in terms of how they deal with importing diamonds. Clearly, a sanction that says, “We’re not importing diamonds directly from Russia” is straightforward, but when diamonds have been processed in third countries, as the Minister has already suggested, it will not always be clear where they have originated from.

There is a very clear point in the regulations that says, under “Technical assistance”:

“A person who contravenes a prohibition … commits an offence, but it is a defence for a person charged with an offence of contravening paragraph (1) to show that the person did not know and had no reasonable cause to suspect that the technical assistance related to an import described in that paragraph”,

and the same is replicated for financial services and brokering services. How do His Majesty’s Government think they will be able to monitor this in practice? To what extent have the G7 countries, in proposing such sanctions, also talked to third countries that might be processing diamonds? For third countries processing Russian diamonds, which Russia is trying to export as a way of circumventing the existing sanctions, it is clearly essential that it should be incumbent on businesses processing diamonds to give clarity and reassurance about where the source diamonds have come from. I am not sufficiently expert in the diamond industry to know where else they might go; I assume that Russian diamonds are not going to South Africa, for example, to be processed, but that is obviously another country that will be exporting diamonds.

What conversations have His Majesty’s Government had with countries that might need support in order that such sanctions will be effective? What conversations have they had with the jewellers’ sector? Clearly, there will be new onuses on businesses which, while understandable, could prove prohibitive. None of this is to say that we disagree with the regulations, but I ask for some clarity about how they can be implemented in practice.

Finally, the Minister mentioned a couple of times that these sanctions are in conjunction with our G7 partners. Do the EU 27 have similar proposals? What opportunities are there to work with large countries, such as China and India, which are neither G7 nor EU countries but could circumvent sanctions, rather as is done with unrefined oil?

My Lords, I want to pick up a number of points made in the other place, to which Anne-Marie Trevelyan responded, starting with the point about oil raised by my honourable friend Catherine West. I know that we have discussed before the reimportation and exportation of Russian-sourced oil. Anne-Marie Trevelyan described

“the challenges around the shadow and dark fleets of oil that we now see moving around the world”.

She said the Government were

“working with colleagues and allies across the G7 and more widely to continue to try to get ahead of the issue”

and to encourage our allies

“not to find themselves participating in shadow fleet activity”.—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 14/3/24; col. 6.]

Can the Minister give us a little more detail about how we are working? There have been suggestions about where this oil is going and where it is being reimported. We have talked about Commonwealth countries—the noble Baroness mentioned this—and it is really important that we get some idea of the specific discussions. Oil is the biggest element of funding Russia’s war machine, so it is really important that we get ahead of this issue and better understand what is going on.

I also have a small point to make about diamonds. Catherine West challenged the fact that we are starting with 1 carat and that the threshold will not drop until September, and Anne-Marie Trevelyan said that this was to ensure that it did not impact detrimentally on business. We have to get a better idea about the effectiveness of that and the timeframes. Again, the method of circumvention seems to be to hide this through a third country, which can then take ownership of these things, oil or diamonds, export them and raise funds that way. Anne-Marie Trevelyan was more concerned about non-Russian producer nations. Of course, we understand that, but the diamond trade is not huge in terms of the number of countries involved in it, so it would be good to have a better understanding about the timeframes.

The issue I really want to focus on—as the noble Lord knows, I have raised this before—is that it is one thing having sanctions, but it is their enforcement and the monitoring of their effectiveness that will deliver for us. Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke about the additional funding going through, particularly in terms of the sanctions directorate in the FCDO, which produces the sanctions. Of course, we then have the Treasury with its enforcement arm and now we have the Department for Business, with the Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation, to ensure that the policy sets out clear guidance on this.

The last time we discussed sanctions, I asked the Minister how quickly the Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation would be set up, what the timeframe would be and when we would be satisfied—because this stems from reports we have had of the number of breaches to sanctions. I would appreciate a much clearer update on that, because it is a vital issue.

On Russian diamonds, the SI also bans the provision of technical assistance, brokering and financial services in connection with the import of third country-processed Russian diamonds. Perhaps I could ask the Minister, on monitoring and enforcement, whether he is satisfied that officials will have the resources and technical knowledge needed to identify breaches in relation to the service side of this issue.

The Explanatory Memorandum also notes that the SI builds on the commitments made by the G7 leaders in May and December: the noble Lord referred to that. Another theme that he regularly repeats is that sanctions are effective only if we work in concert with others, including and especially our allies. The important thing for us is to better understand how these are being implemented by all our allies. Does the Minister have an update about the implementation of the measures by other G7 nations? Where do we rank in terms of speed of implementation? I do not wish to be critical, but it is good to have a better understanding. I am aware that the US and Canada always seem to be ahead of us in announcing sanctions; I am not so confident about their ability to monitor them or to enforce them. It would be good to have an idea of where the Minister thinks we are.

Another issue that I picked up from Sky News, but which has appeared on other channels, is something I raised in terms of how people are circumventing sanctions, in particular by moving oil through third countries. There was a report on Sky News that car exports to Azerbaijan over the past few years have gone through the roof: there has been a dramatic increase. I understand that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that there is no connection to Russia here and that the country is a flourishing market in its own right. It would be good to hear from the Minister whether there has been any sort of checking. Are the Government satisfied with those claims? It does seem rather odd that it coincides with the implementation of sanctions.

I did mention that, when I was last in Georgia, people raised the issue with me of the number of luxury cars that were being exported from Georgia to Russia. So, again, if these things are happening, we should be aware of them and we should be challenging them and working with allies to stop this circumvention.

Those are my few questions. I reiterate the Opposition’s full support for the Government’s efforts in supporting Ukraine and challenging Russia’s war machine through the effective use of sanctions. We debated that in the Chamber recently. Every time I address the Chamber, the Russian Foreign Ministry seems to want to sanction me. According to the Foreign Secretary, I should be very proud of this.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their support of the sanctions we have announced. As I said in my opening remarks, the Government recognise the importance of consistency— notwithstanding the right to debate and challenge the Government—and, equally, the message about the importance of alignment on this is always going out.

These measures are the latest we have added to our package of sanctions. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about effectiveness. In my opening remarks, I articulated what has happened with exports and imports overall for the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned luxury cars; data indicates that we have seen some real impacts on the specific countries he mentioned. I will write to him in more specific terms.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about acting in conjunction with G7 partners and asked whether that was inclusive of the EU. My answer is yes, we are working very closely with the EU, and of course the EU also attends the G7 meetings.

Overall, we are funding new activity across the Government to improve the enforcement of sanctions. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly mentioned oil, which I will come on to later. First of all, though, we have the economic deterrence initiative, which is a cross-government drive to strengthen the UK’s existing sanction regime, making it more robust and reaffirming the UK’s status as a world leader.

The EDI is providing £50 million of additional funding to bolster the UK’s sanctions framework, ensuring that we can go further to tackle circumvention and non-compliance issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised. The objective of the EDI is to improve implementation and enforcement, and prepare for future scenarios. The EDI will fund activity across government to identify, anticipate and prepare our response to future threats. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, we recognise that as we impose sanctions, there will be attempts to further circumvent them.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will be aware, we have the establishment of the new Office of Trade Sanctions Implementation and the reinforcement of the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, which is up and running. It has an enhanced capability to improve novel financial sanctions, including the oil price cap. We have also given additional support to HMRC to investigate and prosecute the most serious sanction breaches.

As the circumvention evolves, we have provided increased specialist capability within the Joint Maritime Security Centre and the National Crime Agency, increasing the UK’s ability to detect and respond to breaches of maritime and transport-related sanctions. Work is also under way to expand the range of penalties that can be imposed for breaches of sanctions measures, to give our sanctions additional teeth. We will discuss that in your Lordships’ House as they come on board.

Major investment is taking place in building lasting sanctions capability across government. There is also investment in our ability to manage sanctions litigation. We are expanding the network of sanctions specialists in UK diplomatic missions. There is a programme of targeted technical assistance for third countries; both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned how we work with other countries. That is also being co-ordinated with EU and US partners.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about effectiveness compared to other countries. In terms of the total number of sanctions across three key jurisdictions on Russia since 2022, the UK stands at 2,001, the EU at 2,144 and the US at 4,053. Over that period of time, that is the sum of individuals and entities sanctioned. Of course, we work in conjunction with them but there are processes that we go through that are different to those in the EU and the US. At the same time, in certain sectors we have taken the lead, whereas the EU may have led on others—certainly the US has done so. This has included, specifically, more than 130 oligarchs in the UK, with a net worth of £147 billion; 78 oligarchs in the EU; and 95 oligarchs in the US. That gives a flavour of how the sanctions are being worked through.

I turn to the specific issue of diamonds. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that she is not an expert on diamonds—neither am I. I have purchased diamonds on two occasions: once when I proposed and, the second time, on our 10th anniversary. For the sake of transparency, Lady Ahmad was the beneficiary of both; I am sure that she can comment on the quality of both the rings and the diamonds contained within.

The net impact that we estimate for the cost to business, which has been raised, is below £10 million per year. On the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised, referring to the debate in the House of Lords, the revenue gained by Russia from diamonds smaller than 0.5 carats is much reduced compared with larger stones. Those diamond sizes are key for other non-Russian manufacturers in the supply chain. The value of smaller stones is added at the processing stage of the diamond’s life cycle. There is a market for diamonds smaller than 0.5 carats but the measures in this instrument need to balance the needs of non-Russian producer nations and the industry, which the noble Baroness flagged, with causing the maximum possible disruption to Russian revenue and with the capacity of the relevant traceability systems, which I shall come on to.

The staggered commencement dates will also allow the industry and producer and manufacturing nations to adapt. As I said in my opening remarks, diamond supply chains are complex and involve actors of many sizes, from miners and processors to global mining companies. The sunrise period will allow for adjustment to take place in this time so that there are no unintended consequences. The diamond industry itself is regulated, with various codes for sorted diamonds; they are categorised appropriately.

The G7 import restrictions extend to processed diamonds. There is also the existing Kimberley process, which applies only to rough diamonds. These two will run in a complementary fashion. We expect that the G7 implementation systems will complement the Kimberley process certification—the first line of clarification of the diamond country of origin—and be an additional layer that is placed over the Kimberley process for G7 markets specifically.

In terms of producing nations, which the noble Baroness mentioned, we are targeting only diamonds produced in Russia. In fact, our objective is to remove Russian diamonds from the world’s largest market for diamonds. Russia’s presence in the market is affecting the whole industry by eroding the reputation of diamonds. This initiative that we are undertaking with partners will help to mitigate this.

On the issue of enforcement on diamonds, we have released detailed guidance to help importers and traders demonstrate compliance with the sanctions. Traders should also be prepared to provide specific documentation to demonstrate evidence of a good supply chain, which must be consistent with the prohibitions under the regulations. Further detail has been made available to the sector, as I have said already, but it is also available on GOV.UK. Traders need to confirm that the diamond does not originate from Russia.

This is something that we are looking at with our G7 partners: there is a further strengthening of the implementation of the sanctions, in that we will look to improve the traceability of the supply chain. We are currently working with G7 partners on a mechanism that will ensure the integrity of the diamond supply chain. The G7 is developing what is termed a certification mechanism, which is being trialled from March and will work by using and expanding on the existing tracing technologies and controls.

On the question of oil, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned circumvention. The import ban on Russian oil and oil products in our markets has substantially reduced the size of the global market for Russian oil. The current oil price cap operates globally by prohibiting UK and coalition firms from providing services such as shipping, of which the UK is a major provider, insurance and finance to facilitate the maritime transport of Russian oil and oil products to countries worldwide, unless the oil was purchased from Russia at or below the price cap.

The noble Lord also referred to the impact. As he mentioned, oil remains Russia’s single largest revenue stream, accounting for roughly a quarter of the Russian budget in 2023. Taking measures to reduce this revenue stream is therefore critical to undermining Mr Putin’s ability to fund the illegal war. The OPC is designed to constrain Putin’s ability to fund this war by restricting the revenues flowing to the regime while, at the same time, ensuring as much market stability as possible, including that of third countries, so that there is affordable energy. In restricting Russian revenues in an OPC context we have effectively required Russia to either sell its oil at a discounted price through the OPC or spend time and money that would otherwise be spent on the battlefield.

The issue of circumvention is still very much a live subject. The coalition has recently acted jointly to tighten price cap compliance rules by placing more robust, regular and detailed requirements regarding the provision of price information on actors involved in facilitating the shipping of Russian oil. We of course reserve the right to take further action alongside our international partners to ensure its effectiveness, if needed. The Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is also undertaking a number of investigations into suspected breaches of the OPC, using the powers under our SAMLA legislation.

I will end my comments there but will review the questions raised by both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord to ensure that we have answers to any questions that I have not answered. I assure noble Lords, as I have done repeatedly, that we will continue to work on a cross-party basis to ensure that there is full information. It is right that we debate these sanctions regimes. The questions raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord serve a key purpose in ensuring that we are robust in our actions and that we send a strong signal to Russia that, when the United Kingdom talks of sanctions, it is not just talk; there is real structure and focus behind it. I assure both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that we will continue to work in concert with our EU, US and other allies to have a maximum impact on Russia’s strategic and economic interests, including on the issue of diamonds. As the traceability mechanism comes into being I will certainly share it with noble Lords at the appropriate time.

I am sure that I speak for all in this Committee and beyond when I say that we stand firmly and resolutely with the people of Ukraine. We will continue to support them until they prevail. With that, I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.43 pm.