LONDON (REUTERS) - Britain on Tuesday (Feb 22) imposed sanctions on Mr Gennady Timchenko and two other billionaires with close links to Mr Vladimir Putin, as well as on five Russian banks, after the Russian president ordered troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.
(The full list of Britain's sanctions against Russia is accessible at the bottom of the story.)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia was heading towards “pariah status” and that the world must now brace for the next stage of Mr Putin’s plan, saying that the Kremlin was laying the ground for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Johnson told parliament that five banks – Rossiya, IS Bank, GenBank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank – were being sanctioned, along with three people – Mr Timchenko, and the brothers Mr Igor and Mr Boris Rotenberg.
But Mr Johnson refrained from imposing limits on Russia’s biggest state banks, cutting off capital for Russian companies or ejecting other prominent so-called Russian oligarchs from Britain.
“This is the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do,” Mr Johnson said. “It is absolutely vital that we hold in reserve further powerful sanctions...in view of what President Putin may do next.”
“We want to stop Russian companies from being able to raise funds in sterling or indeed in dollars,” Mr Johnson said.
Many British lawmakers asked Mr Johnson to be tougher on Russian money, even demanding that Russian oligarchs be ejected from Britain and Russian money be dug out of the City of London.
Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into London and Britain’s overseas territories from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and London has become the Western city of choice for the super-wealthy of Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Though Mr Johnson put Mr Putin on warning that more sanctions would follow, Britain’s initial sanctions package goes little further than the United States which in 2014 and 2018 sanctioned Mr Timchenko and the Rotenbergs.
“The risk is that today’s slap on the wrist will not deter anything,” opposition Labour Party lawmaker Liam Byrne said. “The prime minister’s got to recognise that pulling our punches does not work with President Putin.”
The US Treasury said in 2014 that the shareholders of Bank Rossiya included members of Mr Putin’s inner circle. The Treasury said Mr Boris Rotenburg had amassed a fortune under Mr Putin.
Britain said that Mr Timchenko, one of the founders of Gunvor trading company, was a major shareholder in Bank Rossiya, itself a stakeholder in National Media Group which supported the destabilisation of Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Bank Rossiya has supported the consolidation of Crimea into the Russian Federation by integrating the financial system following the annexation of Crimea,” Britain said.
Mr Timchenko, who Forbes says is worth US$23.5 billion (S$31.6 billion), is a close ally of Russian President Putin, as are the Rotenbergs, Mr Johnson said.
Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith asked Mr Johnson to go further on sanctions, and said that China would be watching the West’s response carefully.
Full list of sanctions
Here is a list of the individuals sanctioned and extracts of the published reasons provided by Britain’s foreign office:
Britain said Bank Rossiya expanded in Crimea after Russia’s 2014 annexation and supported Russia’s consolidation of the peninsular.
“Timchenko therefore is or has been involved in engaging in, providing support for, or promoting any policy or action which destabilises Ukraine or undermines or threatens the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine.”
Britain said Mr Timchenko was “one of the most powerful people in Russia” and had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Britain said he was a citizen of Russia, Finland and Armenia and had stakes in Novatek and Sibur Holding.
He was sanctioned by the United States in 2014.
Reason given: Mr Boris Rotenberg “is a prominent Russian businessman with close personal ties to Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Rotenberg is a major shareholder of SMP Bank and sits on its Board of Directors.”
Mr Rotenberg is co-owner of SGM, the largest construction company for gas pipelines and electrical power supply lines in Russia, Britain said.
“The Rotenberg brothers, have known Putin since they were boys growing up in St Petersburg,” Britain said.
“A former professional judo trainer, he was the Russian President’s former sparring partner. Boris is also a member of the St. Petersburg Connection, a powerful energy lobby under the leadership of Putin.”
He was sanctioned by the United States in 2014.
Reason given: “Igor Rotenberg is a prominent Russian businessmen with close familial ties to President Putin. Rotenberg is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of National Telematic Systems (NTS).”
The eldest son of Mr Arkady Rotenberg, the Russian billionaire businessman.
“Igor now controls drilling company Gazprom Bureniye,” Britain said. “The Rotenbergs are closely associated with Vladimir Putin.”
He was sanctioned by the United States in 2018.
Here is a list of the entities sanctioned:
The bank “has been involved in providing financial services, or making available funds, economic resources, goods or technology and engaging in, providing support for, or promoting any policy or action that could contribute to destabilising Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine”.
Black Sea Bank for Development and Reconstruction
Reason given: “A Crimean bank that was created immediately after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. It has capitalised on the sector’s fear of Western sanctions and the lack of banks in Crimea.”
Joint Stock Company Genbank Reason given: “Genbank is a Russian financial institution that operates extensively in the occupied territory of Crimea.
Reason given: Britain said the bank has operated across Crimea after Ukrainian banks were stopped from operating there.
“It has been providing financial services, thereby facilitating the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation through the financial system.”
Public Joint Stock Company Promsvyazbank
Reason given: Britain said the state-owned bank provides funding to Russia’s military.
“In its role as a pivotal bank for the Russian military-industrial complex, including servicing nearly 70 per cent of the state contracts signed by the Defence Ministry as a government customer, Promsvyazbank provides financial services or makes available funds and economic resources that could contribute to destabilising Ukraine.”