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Russia: Sanctions

Volume 819: debated on Thursday 3 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the likely impact of the sanctions they have introduced against Russia since the invasion of Ukraine.

My Lords, the impact of our and the allied sanctions is significant. At least $250 billion has been wiped off the Russian stock market since the invasion and the rouble has reached record lows against the dollar and sterling. The central bank of Russia has taken unprecedented measures to prop up the rouble, preventing capital flight, and has raised interest rates to 20% from 9.5%. We have also restricted access to high-end technology, blunting the Russian economy for years to come. We continue to ratchet up pressure in conjunction with our allies.

My Lords, the courage of the Ukrainian people continues to inspire us all, but it also compels us to ask what more can be done. There is no doubt that the sanctions that have been introduced by this country and across the world have been far more far-reaching in their application and scope—and indeed the speed of their introduction—than the Kremlin could possibly have imagined. We have seen major changes in some Governments’ approach to defence issues, for instance; I think of Germany. Is the Minister concerned about those countries which are not stepping up to the mark? I think of the Commonwealth countries such as India, the most populous democracy in the world. What is being done to try to persuade it to join the international consensus? There is also, of course, China. What can be done to persuade it to do more behind the scenes to be an influence for good in this terrible situation?

I agree with the noble Lord. There has been unprecedented action to work with our allies in applying sanctions. This underlines the effectiveness of the sanctions: we are able to work together with those countries or jurisdictions, such as the EU, which also have sanctions policies. The noble Lord raises a valid point about what more can be done. We will be debating the laying of further sanctions later today. Further sanctions on Belarus have also been announced—there will be legislation in that respect.

On the specific question of the Commonwealth, I am engaging directly with key partners. We secured a great deal of support from Commonwealth partners at the UN General Assembly vote. Yesterday, we saw 141 nations of the UN General Assembly vote in favour of the Ukraine resolution. That is no small feat.

I will turn to the important issues of China and India. China abstained and did not veto the resolution twice over. India obviously has a long-established relationship with Russia. However, I assure noble Lords that we are working very closely with our Indian partners to also encourage them to reflect on the current situation. As we have seen, they are also extremely challenged by the exodus of Indian students from Ukraine. I assure the noble Lord that we are working very closely with India, and other partners, in this respect.

My Lords, the Minister used the term “ratchet up”. No doubt, he would have heard a solicitor on the radio this morning talking about the potential risk of asset flight. He said that he was advising his clients, if they had not been sanctioned, to get their money out now. What is the Minister’s response to that? I heard the Minister on the radio say that it was all part of a programme, but speed is of the absolute essence here. We need faster action and, possibly, emergency powers.

The Government have been responding, and expediting legislation. In this regard, as I have said before, I am grateful to the usual channels for accommodating these requests. Looking through my own commitments and those of the noble Lord, in the coming days, we will be speaking quite specifically on the legislation being laid.

I agree that the issue of asset flight is an important consideration. This is why we are reluctant to make announcements in advance, particularly those regarding individuals and organisations. As we know, there are individuals who are taking actions based on what has already happened. Equally, we need to ensure that every sanction imposed is legally robust and tested. This is an important part of our sanctions policy and those of international partners. There are those who may respond to our sanctions by sanctioning individuals, because their legal framework is not as strong ours. It is important that any sanction we impose—be it on an individual or an organisation—is fully tested and robust in its application.

My Lords, the strongest possible sanctions are fully justified. However, we must be mindful that there are other victims of this conflict in developing countries where wheat prices have already gone up, and energy and fuel prices are going up. This will create a secondary humanitarian impact. The Government’s humanitarian support for Ukraine is extremely welcome: £140 million in ODA and $500 million of drawing rights from the multilateral development banks. However, the Government have capped our aid at 0.5%, and have cut their support for the IDA by 55% this year. Will the Minister reassure me and the House that our support for developing countries will not be affected by this additional support, which is very welcome for Ukraine?

I assure the noble Lord that we are working to ensure that we respond effectively to Ukraine. I know that the noble Lord has been very supportive of the package we announced in support of humanitarian assistance. Equally, we are very conscious of our obligations in other parts of the world. Your Lordships’ House has been through challenging circumstances on Afghanistan. We know about the continuing conflicts in places such as Yemen, and the issue with the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh. I assure the noble Lord that we are very much focused on ensuring that our response to these issues is equally robust.

My Lords, in addition to economic sanctions, what scope is there now for more diplomatic sanctions during this terrible situation? For example, after the Salisbury event, considerable diplomatic sanctions were imposed.

I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord will appreciate that I will not go into specifics on what steps we are taking next. I assure the noble and gallant Lord, as my right honour friend the Foreign Secretary has said, that all options are very much on the table on how we can further pressure Russia to do the right thing. If it pulls back from Ukraine, talks can begin. All credit goes to the Ukrainians who are engaging in this initiative on the Belarus border. At the same time, Russia is, as I said yesterday, holding a trigger to the head of the Ukrainians and claiming that they believe diplomacy to be the route forward.

My Lords, first, I applaud my noble friend for all he is doing. Given that the aim of the Government is to stop the financing of President Putin’s war machine—and given that he has just said that nothing is off the table—can the Minister confirm that the Government have not ruled out calling for the complete cessation of all European imports of Russian oil and gas, and of all payments for Russian oil and gas under existing long-term contracts? Can the Minister also confirm that the Government have not ruled out banning Gazprombank and Sberbank from SWIFT?

My noble friend raises some quite specific points. On his final point about SWIFT and a number of banks, they have already been directly impacted by some of the steps we have taken. The noble Lord will be aware of the position of Her Majesty’s Government with our key partners on the total suspension of access to SWIFT.

He also raises a number of other points. As I said in response to a previous question, I will not at this time—not least for some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised—be explicit on what kinds of designations or steps we may take against specific institutions or individuals. But the actions of the Government are clear, and I am sure that people are watching the situation very closely.

My Lords, the Government have taken significant action in relation to sanctions. The Minister, personally, has been significantly helpful in relation to this. However, there is one further sanction which has not yet been considered and which I ask him and his colleagues in the Home Office to consider: using the powers that we have to remove British citizenship from Putin’s oligarchs living in the United Kingdom.

I am sure the Home Office has heard the point which the noble Lord has made quite clearly. This is evident in the steps taken recently by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in support of Ukraine, and her response to many of the points raised in your Lordships’ House. As I said, we are looking at the full picture. I stress the point that there are many Russians in the United Kingdom who are dual nationals. There are many Russians who do not have British citizenship but are residing in the UK. There are many Russians in Russia, as we saw in St Petersburg, who are totally and utterly against Mr Putin and his Government. It is important that we stand by them as well.

As I have said, and as the noble and learned Baroness will know, all the actions we are taking, including the sanctions policy, are based on a legal framework to ensure that first sanctions can be applied. Equally, there needs to be a legal recourse for those people who feel that a sanction has been applied against them which is not justified. I assure the noble and learned Baroness that the legal framework is very much incorporated into our sanctions framework.

I will make a slightly further point: she would have seen that we are now working with the International Criminal Court, specifically on crimes that are committed within Ukraine. This is a point which noble Lords, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have raised with me. We are moving forward in that respect as well.