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Russia: Sanctions

Volume 838: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2024


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of UK sanctions on Russia, and in particular on the number of tankers and other ships trading in Russian oil despite those sanctions.

My Lords, sanctions by the United Kingdom and G7 partners have cost Russia an estimated $400 billion, equivalent to four years of war funding, and contributed to a 30% fall in oil tax revenues in 2023. In many ways, the existence of the shadow fleet is a sign that sanctions are working. They are forcing Russia to spend billions to try to circumvent them. The UK is investing in the Joint Maritime Security Centre to track shadow fleet activity, and we are finalising new powers to sanction individual vessels.

My Lords, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his Answer. There is no doubt that sanctions are having an impact. Indeed, you only need to look at the Russian-flagged tankers languishing in harbour; that is why Russia has to have this shadow fleet. My question relates directly to the shadow fleet. Thousands of these ships are being operated, many of them under flags of convenience. They are not properly insured or maintained, and they are at the bottom end of the spectrum. Many of them are going through the Great Belt without pilots, coming down the North Sea and through the channel and doing transfers in the Atlantic. It is a recipe for a disaster which will not be properly covered. We have huge clout in this country because we run merchant shipping, really: we have the insurance, all of the lawyers who work in this area and the IMO. Is there more that we can do to screw this down to put even more pressure on Russia? The Chinese are careful because of secondary sanctions. Could we do more to try to stop this?

The noble Lord is absolutely right to raise this. As he knows, we have invested money in the Joint Maritime Security Centre, and that is making a difference. We have sanctioned Turkish and Emirati shipping company owners involved in facilitating this shadow fleet. We deploy our diplomatic network to deter third countries where we can, and we are working through the IMO. We are going to have the power to sanction individual vessels and their owners. However, the noble Lord is right to say that there is more we can do. Fundamentally, these are mostly uninsured, leaky, unsafe, environmentally unsound ships, and we should be going after them whenever and wherever we can. It is possible to do more, particularly when they potentially threaten environmental disasters in the countries they are going past. One of the things we want to do at the forthcoming European Political Community meeting is to work with partners to see what more we can do to take this weapon out of Putin’s hands.

My Lords, what assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the fact that oil is being sold through China and India and then being resold, so in many ways circumventing the sanctions? The fact that other ships having been sanctioned and subject to secondary sanctions does not seem to have stopped those oil sales. Is there a way of further strengthening sanctions so that they really bite?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. There has been an effect on Russian revenue because of the price cap, but a lot of sales are still going through, using shadow tankers, and into other markets. One thing we are trying to do here to make sure that refined product does not leak back into the UK is to make sure that all importers of oil and oil products into the UK provide proof of origin to relevant enforcement authorities to demonstrate that the goods are not of Russian origin. We will do that, but, as I said in my earlier answer, there is probably more we can do with other countries and allies to chase down this shadow fleet wherever we can.

It is of course true that the revenues for Russia from all fossil fuel exports are down considerably. However, against that, crude oil on the high seas is going up, for the simple reason that Russia cannot export processed products and therefore is concentrating on crude oil. Would it be possible to get directly at the swarm of ships on the high seas that the noble Lord, Lord West, pointed out to us by pressing to reduce the price cap from $60 to $30? That would at one stroke reduce Russian revenues and reduce the possibility of these leaky and dangerous ships wandering around the globe.

The noble Lord with all his experience makes a very good point. I will certainly take it away and discuss with colleagues across government whether there is more we can do to bear down on the price and whether that would be effective. It is worth remembering that we are talking about 600 ageing oil tankers transporting predominantly Russian oil around the world. They do not have the support of any G7 services, such as insurance, so whether it is insurance, sanctions, environmental measures or the price cap, we are looking at everything we can.

My Lords, I return to an issue that we have raised before, which slightly leads on from sanctions: the efforts that have been made—I think they have accelerated—to get interest from frozen Russian assets that we can then channel into Ukraine. The Foreign Secretary has pointed on numerous occasions to the importance of international collaboration on this issue. Can he say something in that regard about today’s developments in Brussels and the upcoming meeting of the G7 Finance Ministers? How quickly could this become operational, and will there be any need for primary legislation to ensure that we can implement it?

What I can say to the noble Baroness is that good progress has been made. To be frank, we would perhaps have gone for a more maximalist version of trying to use the frozen assets themselves, but the idea of taking the interest from the assets and using that for Ukraine to pay the interest on a larger loan—which could be as much as £50 billion—is the lead proposal at the moment, and is being discussed by Finance Ministers in the G7. I am confident that we will get there, but, as we do, it is very important to say that we do not rule out taking further action on the frozen assets themselves. We may well get to a time when Russia is, or should be, paying reparations to Ukraine for the damage that has been done. At that point, those underlying assets that we still hold could be very important.

My Lords, last week, in a debate on Ukraine, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and I asked the Minister about the greatest idea produced by the Foreign Secretary, which we felt was very creative, of using the assets that we have seized from Russia and turning them into money to help the war effort in Ukraine. His answer was that he agreed with us but that we would have to ask the Foreign Secretary about it, as it was his idea. Can the Foreign Secretary tell me what he has done about it?

What I have done about it this. We have had discussions with the G7 Foreign Ministers, where I have been talking to all our allies about why we should be doing this—the economic case, the moral case, the political case. I think that is widely accepted, but there is nervousness, particularly in some of the European countries where a lot of the assets reside—a lot of them are held in Euroclear, for instance—about using the underlying assets straight away. That is where this idea comes in, using the windfall interest from these assets to roll into something that is given to Ukraine so that it can pay the interest on a much bigger loan. That is the lead idea. We must not let the best be the enemy of the good; let us try to get the money out of the door and into the hands of Ukrainians so that they can pay for the war effort against Russia at this vital time. As I have said, that will not rule out looking at the underlying assets, which will of course still be frozen and will not be going back to Russia. We can look at those again later.

My Lords, connected to that question, I congratulate my noble friend the Foreign Secretary on his success in getting a long-term British commitment to Ukraine in military aid for its defence against Russia; I think we have committed something like £3 billion per year until 2030. On its own, of course, that will not be enough. We need other countries to make the same sort of long-term commitment. What can this Government do to persuade other Governments to back what we have done?

The best thing we have done is to announce that the £3 billion— the noble Lord is right about that figure—is not just for this year and next year but for as many years as Ukraine needs it. That gives us the ability, just as with the 2.5% spending pledge, to go to other partners in NATO and elsewhere and say, “We have made this pledge. If you make this pledge too, we can give Ukrainians the certainty they need that the money will be there to support not just the munitions but the vital economic measures that they need as well”.

My Lords, in previous debates on sanctions I have raised questions about the ability of Ministers to exempt British Overseas Territories from the shipping components of our sanctions. Can the Foreign Secretary reassure me that not one single member of the shadow fleet will be able to get a landing licence into a British Overseas Territory?

That is an excellent question. I will double check, but my understanding is that we are trying to track this shadow fleet wherever it goes, and use that information so that countries can use environmental legislation, insurance legislation and other legislation to confiscate shipments and stop them moving. That must be the case in our overseas territories, but I will double check that it is so.

The Secretary of State is quite wrong that it is in other capitals that the Russians have the greatest investment. The greatest Russian investment is here in London; it is in property, and in Abramovich’s sale of Chelsea FC—all that money is here. The Secretary of State said at the previous Question Time, as he has said before, that he wants to do something about this, but he is doing nothing about it. The European Union is calling for action; at the last meeting of the Council of Europe, I took part in a debate where the Council of Europe almost unanimously asked the United Kingdom to do something about it. Why is he not doing it? What legal obstructions or impediments are stopping him taking real action?

We have taken real action: we have sanctioned 2,000 individuals and entities under the Russia sanctions regime, over 1,700 of which were sanctioned since the full-scale invasion. We have taken huge steps. The point I would make is that there is a difference in scale, even with the riches of Abramovich—and we will come on to that—between the individuals who we have sanctioned and the Russian sovereign assets that are invested in things such as Euroclear and central banks in Europe and elsewhere. There is a difference in scale, and that is why the windfall interest from them is so important. On the issue of Abramovich, we are doing everything we can to try to make sure that this massive amount of money, which is in trust, can start flowing into Ukraine for the benefit of Ukrainian people and Ukrainian charities. It is a complicated issue—I can go into more detail if the noble Lord would like—but we are working very hard on it.