Liz Truss arrives in Moscow with ‘toughest sanctions’ plan delayed

Foreign secretary told MPs laws would be in place by 10 February but nothing has been put to parliament

The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, will meet her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Thursday with her plan to have put the UK’s “toughest sanctions regime against Russia” on the statute book in time for the trip having fallen through.

Truss told MPs the laws would be in place by 10 February, but nothing has been put to parliament, raising suspicions among opposition MPs that government lawyers are struggling to frame the sweeping and unprecedented new laws.

The Foreign Office confirmed the delay. “Our new sanctions legislation will be signed by an FCDO minister this week and will be laid in parliament shortly after,” a statement said. “This will be the UK’s toughest sanctions regime against Russia, and means we can act in concert with the US and other partners.” Parliament will be in recess for a fortnight.

No reason for the delay has been given, but the Foreign Office can point out the measures once on the statute book were only due to come into force if a Russian invasion occurred. The EU is also still considering what sanctions it will be implement, including the five gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany.

She will hold her talks with Lavrov as UK officials said there is no evidence of Russian military de-escalation.

Speaking before her visit to Moscow, Truss said: “Russia should be in no doubt about the strength of our response. We have said many times that any further invasion would incur severe costs, including through a coordinated package of sanctions. Russia has a choice here. We strongly encourage them to engage, de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.”

In a statement on Wednesday evening, the Russian foreign ministry warned that British officials should change their rhetoric. “The British side must be clearly aware that without a clear change in the tone of the speeches of representatives of the British leadership, productive interaction is impossible either in solving bilateral problems or in settling international problems,” the ministry said.

“Relations between our countries should be based on the principles of equality and mutual respect, without artificial restrictions hindering business.”

Moscow added that trade and economic ties remained a “stabilising” factor in bilateral ties.

It came as Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, suggested Moscow was still ready to talk when he told the BBC that “we certainly believe there is still room for diplomacy”.

Truss will be in Moscow while the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, will on Thursday be in Poland, one of the UK’s closest allies in Europe, before travelling to Brussels to meet the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. Johnson is considering further deployments to eastern Europe.

The legislation announced by Truss would “target any company that is linked to the Russian state, engages in business of economic significance to the Russian state, or operates in a sector of strategic significance to the Russian state”.

The proposed laws would empower the UK Treasury to impose sanctions on individuals involved with these companies. Previously the UK had been able to impose sanctions only on businesses or individuals responsible for destabilising Ukraine.

Truss told MPs on 31 January: “The package that we are putting forward in legislation will be in place by 10 February, which means that we are able to enact wide-ranging sanctions in broad categories that really target anybody who is providing strategic or economic support to the Russian regime. There will be nowhere to hide, and I am very clear that we will apply those sanctions without fear or favour.”

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank, Pat McFadden, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “I do not know where the promised legislation is.”

He also urged the government to introduce its repeatedly delayed economic crime bill as a matter of national security. He said: “So much of the wealth associated with the people close to the Putin regime is tied up in property in the UK. There is a very well-developed group of law firms, consultancies, trusts, PR firms who are ready to help these people and issue lawsuits against people who might expose them.”

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: “Liz Truss should stop chasing headlines and finally crackdown on Putin’s cronies after years of broken promises. Yet again it is all words and no action. This might be the most embarrassing blunder yet when it comes to this government promising action on dirty money from Russia flowing into the UK.”

British officials stress the French president, Emmanuel Macron, consulted Boris Johnson before his visit to Moscow, and further multilateral consultations occurred on Thursday. Britain is stressing the Nato open door policy and Ukraine’s right to join the security bloc of its choice are not subject to negotiation.

Truss will stress the UK is willing to discuss renegotiating arms controls treaties with Russia.

However, the UK’s influence is restricted since it is not a member of the Normandy format, the four-member group of Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine that is supposed to oversee the Minsk agreements on the future of the Russian-backed eastern region of Ukraine.

Intelligence assessments about Russian military plans are being shared, and the differing reactions to those assessments between Europe and the US are acknowledged

The visit is the first by a UK foreign secretary in more than four years. The Foreign Office said Truss would push for Russia to abide by the international agreements it has already signed up to – including the OSCE Helsinki Final Act, Minsk protocols, and the Budapest memorandum, which ensures the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine is respected.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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