Russian oligarchs helping Vladimir Putin could be hit with asset freezes and travel bans in a toughening of sanctions laws to deter an invasion of Ukraine.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday said protecting freedom and democracy was more important than any “short-term” economic pain from the move.
Under the current law, only individuals and companies involved in helping Russia to destabilise Ukraine can be sanctioned by the UK.
But the proposed change would widen that definition, meaning any person or entity of “economic or strategic significance to the Kremlin” could be targeted. It would mean rich Russians living in Britain who are working closely with Mr Putin, the Russian president, could in theory be hit with sanctions by the Government.
Ms Truss said there was “nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs”. A Foreign Office source declined to name any individuals or entities that could be targeted.
The Foreign Secretary also confirmed that she was pursuing plans for a register of property owned in the UK by foreign individuals and companies, helping reveal the scale of overseas money in the country.
She said it was “very unlikely” that British troops would be sent into Ukraine, while Jens Stoltenberg, the Nato secretary-general, said Nato troops would not be sent there.
The interventions come amid heightened fears that Russia is on the brink of an invasion of Ukraine, having amassed more than 100,0000 troops on its border.
Boris Johnson is expected to fly to Eastern Europe this week, while Ms Truss is set to visit both Ukraine and Russia in the next few weeks.
On Sunday, Mr Johnson warned Mr Putin that any invasion would be “reckless and catastrophic”. He has been holding talks with world leaders about a potential response.
Ms Truss gave a string of television interviews discussing details of the new sanctions regime, which will be announced in Parliament on Monday.
She told Sky News: “Currently, the economic sanctions are fairly narrowly drawn, so we could only target companies with a direct involvement in destabilising Ukraine.
“What we are looking to do is widen that so any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia would be able to be targeted. So there will be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs, for Russian companies involved in propping up the Russian state. That’s what we are looking at doing this week.
“We cannot favour short-term economic interests over the long-term survival of freedom and democracy in Europe. That’s the tough decision all of us have got to make.”
Ms Truss was referring to the The Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. Potential sanctions include asset freezes and travel bans. The widening of who can be sanctioned under the law is hoped to be passed in “weeks rather than months”, according to a Foreign Office source.
Asked on the BBC whether she could rule out a scenario with British soldiers “on the ground”, Ms Truss said: “That’s very unlikely… and the Defence Secretary has been clear about that.”
Mr Stoltenberg said Nato has “no plans” to deploy Nato combat troops to Ukraine.
Mr Johnson tweeted: “Earlier this week, I was briefed by our defence chiefs on the situation on Ukraine’s border. The picture is increasingly concerning – I continue to urge Russia to engage in negotiations and avoid a reckless and catastrophic invasion.”