UK sanctions Russia over 'chilling' Ukrainian children forced deportations

Children play in a playground in front of missile-damaged buildings ahead of a visit by Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, Monday March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Children play in a playground in front of missile-damaged building in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. Credit: AP

The UK is targeting Russian officials with fresh sanctions in response to Vladimir Putin's "chilling" forced deportations of Ukrainian children.

Some 19,000 children have been deported against their will to Russia or Moscow-controlled territories since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ukrainian figures suggest.

Many are sent to "re-education" camps where they are reportedly exposed to a programme of cultural, patriotic and military education drawn up by Russia.

In response to this attempt to erase the Ukrainian national identity, Britain's foreign secretary announced 14 new asset bans and travel freezes against Russians deemed to have played a played a role.

“In his chilling programme of forced child deportation, and the hate-filled propaganda spewed by his lackeys, we see Putin’s true intention – to wipe Ukraine from the map," James Cleverly said.

Children attend a group therapy class at the recovery camp for children and their mothers affected by the war near Lviv, Ukraine. Credit: AP

“Today’s sanctions hold those who prop up Putin’s regime to account, including those who would see Ukraine destroyed, its national identity dissolved, and its future erased.”

Among the officials targeted are Russian education minister Sergei Kravtsov and Moscow’s children’s rights commissioner Ksenia Mishonova.

The announcement comes ahead of Mr Cleverly's speech at the UN Security Council (UNSC) in New York, where he is expected to demand that the Kremlin renews its Black Sea grain deal after suspending the agreement.

Brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, the pact was agreed upon in July 2022 to ensure the safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.

It was in response to Russian forces blockading seaports, preventing the export of grain and other vital food supplies, fuelling fears of a hunger crisis in some countries, particularly in East Africa.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. Credit: PA

Known as the "breadbasket of Europe", Ukraine produced enough food to feed 400 million people per year before the war, according to the World Food Programme.

This should show why the deal was so important to so many, but Russia pulled out on Monday, claiming "hidden Western sanctions" were holding back its own fertiliser and wheat exports.

That's despite Russia managing to solidify its status as the world's top wheat exporter in 2022/23, with its total supply exceeding 100 million tonnes for the first time, the United States Department of Agriculture says.

Meanwhile Ukrainian exports plummeted, with production for 2023/24 forecast for 17.5 million tons - the smallest crop in over a decade.

The scene in Brighton after a fire at the Royal Albion Hotel Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA
Russian and Ukrainian officials signed the deals to resume much-needed grain exports on Friday. Credit: AP

“Fundamentally, if Russia does not extend the deal, they will be robbing millions of people of access to vital grain and causing suffering across the globe," prime minister Rishi Sunak's official spokesman said.

Meanwhile, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper announced that Labour would introduce a “bespoke” mechanism to proscribe state-sponsored threats, such as Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, instead of “trying and failing” to use counter-terror legislation.

In a speech for the Royal United Services Institute in central London, she said the party would establish a “joint cell” between the Home Office and Foreign Office to share intelligence and speed up decision-making by ending “turf wars” between the departments.

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