'Putin's super-rich pals will pay the price if he invades Ukraine'

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed any Russian oligarch “involved in propping up” the Kremlin could be targeted by harsh financial penalties. Ms Truss, who is set to announce the crackdown in Parliament this afternoon, said Britain and her allies across Europe must look past “short-term economic interests” to defend freedom and democracy.

The sanctions could target Russia’s financial institutions and energy companies while hitting individuals with asset freezes or travel bans. 

The UK has trained 22,000 troops in Ukraine, supplied thousands of anti-tank missiles and given support to its navy.

Boris Johnson is expected to fly to eastern Europe this week, while Ms Truss is set to visit both Ukraine and Russia in the next fortnight.

The Prime Minister yesterday confirmed British troops, fighter jets and warships are set to be deployed to eastern Europe to deter Russia’s aggression from spilling across the continent.

Downing Street also confirmed that HMS Prince of Wales, one of Britain’s two aircraft carriers, is “on standby to move within hours should tensions rise further”. The carrier is currently the flagship of Nato’s response taskforce.

Russia has about 127,000 troops, tanks, artillery and missiles amassed near Ukraine’s border but denies it plans to invade the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Kuleba Dmytro said if Russia is serious about de-escalation, it “must continue diplomatic engagement and pull back military forces along Ukraine’s borders”.

Ms Truss added: “The number one priority is deterring Vladimir Putin. That’s why we are offering to deploy extra troops into Estonia, we are providing more air support across the Black Sea, and we are supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine to make sure they are in the best position should Vladimir Putin try to stage an incursion.

“What I’ll be announcing this week is improved legislation on sanctions so we can target more Russian interests that are of direct relevance to the Kremlin.”

Mr Johnson warned yesterday of an “increasingly concerning” situation over Ukraine, after briefings this week from defence chiefs.

He has offered to double the number of British troops deployed in eastern Europe.

Ms Truss said: “We think it’s highly likely that Putin is looking to invade Ukraine”, adding that UK ministers are desperately using diplomacy to avert a bloody war.

But the Foreign Secretary said it is “very unlikely” British soldiers will be deployed to fight in any conflict in Ukraine.

The planned deployment of extra troops to eastern Europe will include 1,200 Paras, Royal Marine mountain and arctic warfare specialists, Royal Artillery armed with deep-fire rocket systems, and Apache attack helicopters.

Also poised are cyber units from the Royal Signals, drones, medics and six Chinook troop-carrying helicopters.

An RAF Typhoon squadron will be sent to Cyprus, tasked with patrolling Romania and Bulgarian air space, while a Type-45 destroyer and a patrol vessel will be sent to the Black Sea.

Mr Johnson has asked the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, to attend Cabinet tomorrow to brief ministers on the situation in the region.

The Foreign Secretary said property owned by Russian oligarchs could be seized in the new sanctions regime.

She said: “We cannot favour short-term economic interests over the long-term survival of freedom and democracy in Europe – that’s the tough decision that all of us have got to make. What the legislation enables us to do is hit a much wider variety of targets, so there can nobody who thinks they would be immune to those sanctions.”

Bill Browder, who was one of the architects of the existing sanctions legislation, backed the seizure of Russian oligarchs’ assets to deter an invasion.

He said Putin had “stolen an enormous amount of money” in his two decades in power in Russia.

Mr Browder added: “He doesn’t keep it in his own name, he keeps it in the name of oligarch trustees. They don’t keep that money in Russia.

“We see it in London, in New York and in the south of France. Putin’s killed a lot of people to get that money.

“So the cleanest, safest and simplest way of deterring Putin from invading Ukraine is to go after his money.”

Nato’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, insisted Europe must diversify its gas supplies amid fears Russia will switch off its pipeline if theWest imposes sanctions.

Ms Truss said a new gas pipeline between Russia and Germany should be halted in the event of the Kremlin ordering an invasion.

source: express.co.uk