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Why has the UK response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine been so weak? Boris Johnson has previously declared he would come down, “like a steel trap in the event of the first Russian toecap crossing into more sovereign Ukrainian territory”. In January Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, promised, “the toughest sanctions scheme against Russia we’ve ever had”. On Monday Johnson promised a “barrage of sanctions”.

In the event, on Tuesday only five Russian banks and three oligarchs were sanctioned, with the promise of more to come, including legislation to enable sanctions against 451 members of the Russian Duma who voted to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Johnson has declared the UK is “way out in front of” our European partners in sanctioning Russian entities and at the same time says his sanctions are part of a coordinated plan with Europe. So, are we way out in front or marching together? If plans are coordinated why has Europe sanctioned 27 individuals as opposed to three in the UK?

Weasel Words

With the Health Minister (where was Liz Truss?) wheeled out to declare the invasion had begun and Johnson describing it as both an incursion and a renewed invasion, it appears the Tory government cannot even coordinate itself. I was going to write that they could not organise a piss-up in a brewery, but after PartyGate that looks like the only thing they can organise.

Make no mistake, they are talking tough to divert from their own troubles as the most inept government in living memory, while using weasel words to give themselves a get out.

So when Johnson spoke of Russia invading more Ukrainian territory does that exclude the areas it has previously invaded in the Donbas? Does the renewed invasion refer to these territories and mean that Johnson is waiting for Moscow to cross into areas where the Ukraine government still exercises sovereignty before he unleashes his barrage?

This is not a quibble. Russian analysts will be weighing every word that comes from the West and alerting Putin to any inconsistencies or incongruities that suggest weakness or confusion. When the Foreign Office sent out misleading messages in 1982, it encouraged Argentina to invade the Falklands. They were retaken in a ten week war that cost 907 lives and 1965 wounded. Mixed messaging over Ukraine will prove far more costly.

Past Failures

We’ve been here before.  The UK threatened action following the poisoning of the KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, Crimea’s annexation in 2014 and the Salisbury Novichok attack in 2018. On each occasion, action was underwhelming and ineffective. How come?


It is no secret that Russian oligarchs have given at least £3 million in donations to the Conservative Party. Half of that comes from Lubov Chernukhin, 49, a former banker who is the wife of former Russian deputy finance minister, Vladimir Chernukhin – who came to London in 2004 after falling out with Vladimir Putin. Her donations bought her access to government advisory committee meetings. They may be UK citizens now, but these donors made their money under Putin. Many commute between Moscow and London and bought their citizenship under the Golden Visa system.

A £3 million hit on Tory Party finances is not enough to explain successive government failures to come to grips with the rise of the Russian Oligarchy in UK society. Roman Abramovich, best known here as the owner of Chelsea FC, is a billionaire and close associate of Putin. Evgeny Lebedev is the son of Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, ex-KGB and an associate of Putin. Evegeny Lebedev owns the Evening Standard and the Independent. Johnson got him a peerage. He sits in the House of Lords as Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation!

The London Laundromat

The fact is that Russian wealth, which was accumulated under questionable means, largely by the privatisation of previously Soviet owned public utilities at knock down prices to members of the elite, plays a very important role in the economic life of the UK, particularly in London. Hundreds of billions of pounds has passed through the so-called ‘London Laundromat,’ washing dirty money, inflating property prices and enriching city firms of bankers and lawyers in the process.

It has even contributed to the tourism industry.

Kleptocracy Tours, run by anti-corruption campaigners, takes passengers on a bus trip from Highgate via St John’s Wood to Belgravia, pointing out mansions belonging to Kremlin cronies and their extended families. So many have homes in Belgravia’s Eaton Square that it has become a favourite address for Russian cryptocurrency scammers, who use it to give their fake firms a high-end veneer.

Is the curtain coming down on ‘Londongrad’? (

This intertwining of interests suggests that despite the bluster, UK sanctions will be symbolic and shambolic in their effect. The three oligarchs sanctioned on Tuesday have been on a US sanctions list since 2018. So it is unlikely that UK firms have much dealing with them anyway.

So there you have it. Despite the rhetoric, Johnson’s government is likely to fall short again, with words which do more harm than good and deeds that do nothing at all.

The Left Response

Meanwhile, what should socialists do? Critical Mass has already argued that, while we cannot support Putin, the left should neither align themselves with Johnson’s rhetoric nor his actions. He contributes nothing to the negotiated settlement which is the only way to end this conflict.

Stop The War has campaign materials and position statements that offer a way forward for socialists who abhor the prospect of taking sides in a conflict between NATO and Russia.

In the USA CODEPINK is ‘a women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarism, support peace and human rights initiatives, and redirect our tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.’ On Saturday, February 26 they invite us to join their emergency online rally with CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin & UK MP Jeremy Corbyn.

International solidarity is the only answer to divisive nationalist posturing.

One thought on “Russia – Ukraine: Sanctions? What Sanctions?”
  1. I fear that our govt is so in thrall to Russian finances that there will be few effective sanctions. The phrase “the UK has brought a peashooter to a gunfight” rings loudly in my ears.

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