UK sanctions on Russian banks and wealthy individuals over Ukraine incursion labelled 'tepid'

ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports as Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemns Russia's latest actions in the strongest possible terms

The UK has hit five Russian banks and three "very high net wealth" individuals with sanctions, after Russia made an incursion into Ukrainian territory.

Boris Johnson is hoping the sanctions can dissuade President Vladimir Putin from launching a "full-scale invasion" of Ukraine after he moved to recognise two separatist Ukrainian regions as independent.

The banks being sanctioned are Rossiya Bank, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank, and the Black Sea Bank.

The individuals, who will have their UK assets frozen and be banned from entering the country, are Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg, and Igor Rotenberg.

"This the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do and we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed," the prime minister said.

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron have spoken about the “chilling developments in Ukraine” in crunch diplomatic talks. Credit: PA

Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that Mr Johnson had spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about the “chilling developments in Ukraine last night”.

"The leaders agreed they needed to continue to work in lockstep to target Russian individuals and entities bankrolling President (Vladimir) Putin’s aggressive approach," the spokesperson confirmed as Western countries issued co-ordinated responses to the crisis.

“Russia’s actions don’t just threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty, but are a blatant attack on freedom and democracy, the leaders agreed."

“Both agreed to stay in close contact and speak again in the coming days," the spokesperson added.

Why are there so much criticism of the PM's sanctions package? Romilly Weeks explains

While Mr Johnson has stressed that sanctions could be extended, he is facing increasingly vocal calls to introduce tougher measures now to deter any further Russian aggression.

Anti-Putin campaigner Bill Browder, who pushed governments around the world into enacting anti-Russian corruption laws after his lawyer was killed while in Russian custody, is among those who have questioned why more sweeping actions have not yet been announced.

He said the sanctions are "pretty tepid if you ask me. The oligarchs have been on the US sanctions list since 2018."

"Where is VTB and Sberbank? Where are the other 50 oligarchs?" he asked on Twitter.

The PM was also under pressure to go further on measures against Russia by MPs from across the House of Commons, with Sir Keir Starmer urging him to "to ensure that more sanctions are introduced".

The Labour leader said he understands the tactic of holding back sanctions to try to deter an invasion past the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of Ukraine but said "a threshold has already been breached".

He said a sovereign nation "has been invaded in a war of aggression", and "if we do not respond with the full set of sanctions now Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs".

Sir Keir suggested Russia should be excluded from financial mechanisms like Swift, trading in Russian sovereign debt should be banned and Russia Today should be prevented from "broadcasting its propaganda around the world".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the PM should "freeze and begin seizing the assets of every single one of Putin's cronies in the UK and then expel these oligarchs from our country as part of a much stronger sanctions regime".

He also urged Mr Johnson to act to prevent this year's Champions League final from being held in Russia, as had been planned.

Mr Johnson responded: "I think it inconceivable that major international football tournaments can take place in Russia after, as I say, the invasion of a sovereign country."

The PM told MPs that the West "must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin's plan", at which point more sanctions would be issued.

He added: "The violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers at peak readiness to attack."

Critics of the UK sanctions pointed to Germany's decision to pull the plug on Nord Stream 2, a significant step by Chancellor Olaf Scholz which will stop Russia supplying energy via the pipeline.

Mr Johnson led an emergency crisis meeting with ministers this morning and was briefed at 6.30am at a meeting of the Cobra committee on the latest intelligence from the border with Ukraine.

It came after Mr Putin ordered his troops to carry out “peacekeeping” duty in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, something Health Secretary Sajid Javid said shows the invasion of Ukraine has "already begun".

Following the Cobra meeting, the prime minister said: "I'm afraid all the evidence is that President Putin is indeed bent... on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the overrunning, the subjugation of an independent, sovereign European country.

"Let's be absolutely clear, I think that will be absolutely catastrophic."

Mr Johnson added Putin has "completely torn up international law" by his actions in Ukraine.

"We expect, I'm afraid, that there's more Russian irrational behaviour to come"

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said Russia’s ambassador Andrei Kelin had been summoned “to explain Russia’s violation of international law and disregard of Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

A European security source, meanwhile, told ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo that President Putin "intends to move beyond east Ukraine and to launch an assault on Kyiv".

Mr Johnson reiterated that the UK and its allies will still attempt to de-escalate tensions with diplomacy but the next steps are to "immediately" impose the "first barrage" of sanctions against Russia.

"Targeting not just entities in Donbass, in Luhansk and Donetsk, but in Russia itself, targeting Russian economic interests as hard as we can," said the PM.

The PM said Europe's dependency on Russian hydrocarbons, oil and gas, meant it was "not tough enough" on the Kremlin ahead of the 2014 annexation of Crimea and insisted this time the UK would come down harder.

He blamed recent soaring gas prices on Europe's failure to wean itself off Russia's energy sources, insisting: "We've got to make sure that we cut the umbilicus, we snip the drip feed into our blood stream".

Mr Johnson said the UK's response to the crisis includes granting licences for UK gas reserves but also shifting to low-carbon energy, including nuclear power.

It came as oil prices surged nearly 5% and stock prices dropped after President Putin ordered forces into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.