Britain has sanctioned the stepdaughter of Putin’s lapdog Sergei Lavrov as part of a new raft of sanctions on a string of Russian ‘oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs’.
Also among the targets of the new measures announced today are The Wagner Group mercenaries – known as ‘Putin’s private army’ and accused of trying to assassinate Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian politicians.
UK unveils latest wave of sanctions
ALFA-BANK JSC (Alfa-Bank)
The largest private bank in Russia. Separate from Alfa-Bank (Ukraine) which has not been sanctioned.
The world’s largest diamond mining company, based in Mirny, Russia and with a market cap estimated at £4.69billion.
Eugene Markovich Shvidler
A billionaire businessman with close business links to Roman Abramovich. His net worth is reportedly £1.2billion.
Founder of Tinkoff Bank. His net worth is estimated at £3.4billion.
Chief Executive Officer of Sberbank, the largest Russian bank. A former minister under Putin who worked with him in the St Petersburg Government in the 1990s.
Oleg E Aksyutin
The Deputy Chairman of the Management Board at Gazprom PJSC, the Russian multinational energy corporation.
First Vice President of Rosneft, the Russian State oil company.
Deputy Chairman of the Management Board and First Vice President for Oil, Gas, and Offshore Business Development of Rosneft
Installed as ‘mayor’ of Melitopol by Russian authorities. This first individual sanctioned for collaborating with the Russian military in Ukraine.
Stepdaughter of Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov. She reportedly owns a £4million property in London.
The new sanctions cover individuals including billionaire oil tycoon Eugene Shvidler, founder of Tinkoff bank Oleg Tinkov, Herman Gref, and Polina Kovaleva, Foreign Minister Lavrov’s stepdaughter.
NATO leaders are gathering in Brussels today to discuss the Ukraine War, while Putin’s forces advance appears to be increasingly stalled after invading 26 days ago.
Arriving at the summit this morning, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.’
The most prominent target of the sanctions is Imperial College graduate Polina Kovaleva, a glamorous 26-year-old who lives in a £4million home in Kensington.
Polina went to a private boarding school in Bristol before gaining a first-class degree in economics with politics at Loughborough University and later completing a masters in economics and strategy for business at Imperial College London.
She went on to work for Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, where she helped with mergers and acquisitions and later worked at Glencore, the mining company. Before buying her own home, she lived in Holland Park, west London, in an apartment in a townhouse that is owned by the Russian embassy.
Records show that the nearby Ukrainian embassy alleged Russia had wrongly claimed ownership of the property.
Polina now lives in an apartment, which Land Registry documents state she purchased for £4.4million with no mortgage in 2016, when she was 21, in a block just off Kensington High Street. It is still unknown who paid for Polina’s flat. She shares the apartment with a man, believed to be her partner, who also has a 10 per cent stake in the investment company she now runs.
The property is part of an award-winning development offering a swimming pool, gym, spa, cinema, golf simulator, games room and views across Kensington and Holland Park.
Polina’s mother is reported to be Svetlana Polyakova, 51, a powerful member of the Russian Foreign Ministry who accompanies Lavrov on every foreign trip and has had a relationship since the early 2000s. It is rumoured that she is Lavrov’s unofficial wife.
Britain’s Foreign Office has claimed that targeting Polina ‘sends a strong signal that those benefiting from association of those responsible for Russian aggression are in scope of our sanctions’.
In practice, the sanctions will prevent UK nationals and businesses from ‘dealing with any funds or economic resources which are owned, held or controlled’ by Polina. They will also prevent money being provided to Polina, or being provided for her benefit.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: ‘These oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price. Putin should be under no illusions – we are united with our allies and will keep tightening the screw on the Russian economy to help ensure he fails in Ukraine. There will be no let-up.
‘All those sanctioned today will have their assets in the UK frozen which means no UK citizen or company can do business with them, and individuals subject to travel bans are also prohibited from travelling to or from the UK.
‘Today’s sanctions will bring the total global asset value of the banks the UK has sanctioned since the invasion to £500billion and the net worth of the oligarchs and family members in excess of £150billion.
Britain has sanctioned the stepdaughter of Putin’s lapdog Sergei Lavrov, Imperial College graduate Polina Kovaleva
She went on to work for Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, where she helped with mergers and acquisitions and later worked at Glencore, the mining company
Land Registry documents show Polina purchased an apartment (pictured above) in Kensington, west London, for £4.4million with no mortgage in 2016, when she was aged just 21
Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson deep in conversation at the NATO summit today
NATO heads of states stand together for a family picture at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, March 24, 2022
Polina’s mother is reported to be Svetlana Polyakova, 51, with whom Lavrov has had a relationship since the early 2000s and is said to be his unofficial wife
The global crimes of the notorious Wagner Group used by Putin for ‘dirty’ missions
The notorious Wagner Group, a private military company, was also sanctioned by the UK today.
Founded by a former soldier and Putin-ally known as ‘Putin’s chef’ it has committed war crimes across the globe. They have now allegedly been tasked with assassinating Volodymyr Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian politicians.
In December, the EU accused Wagner of ‘serious human rights abuses in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique’.
So what are some of the crimes the group has committed?
The Wagner group (file picture) and Chechen special forces have allegedly been trying to kill the Ukrainian president since Russian troops launched a savage invasion of Ukraine on February 24
Donbas, Ukraine: The Wagner group first appeared in 2014, to help Russia destabilise the Donbas region.
Hundreds of members assassinated Donbas separist leaders who were not following Kremlin orders, with the killings blamed on Ukraine.
Syria: Wagner was operating in Syria in 2015, where the Russians wanted to bolster the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
In 2017, Wagner employees tortured a deserter from the Syrian army.
Sickening footage showed how they broke his legs with a sledgehammer and then crushed his chest, before cutting off his hands, his head and finally setting his corpse alight.
The conduct of Wagner in Syria eventually became so bad that the Russian government refused to pay them, viewing them as dangerous cowboys.
Wagner’s founder and leader is Dmitry Utkin, a shaven-headed former lieutenant colonel in Spetsnaz – Russia’s special forces.
He is described as a neo-Nazi with ‘an appreciation of the aesthetic of the Third Reich’. Utkin was sanctioned by the EU for ordering Bouta’s killing.
Central African Republic: Wagner mercenaries arrived in CAR to support President Faustin-Archange Touadéra against rebels in 2017.
Wagner employees were accused by the UN and France of carrying out human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings of suspected rebels.
There were also accusations of rape, robbery and torture against unarmed civilians.
The United Nations is probing an alleged massacre during a joint operation by government forces and Wagner fighters.
One military source told AFP that more than 50 people died, some in ‘summary executions’
In 2018, three Russian journalists reporting on Wagner’s activities in CAR were ambushed and shot dead. Another Russian journalist investigating the group ‘fell’ to his death from his fifth floor flat.
Sudan: Wagner mercenaries are believed to have trained government forces.
The group also ‘spreads disinformation on social media and engages in illicit activities connected to gold mining’.
Mozambique: Wagner has supported the army in its fight against the Islamist militant insurgency in the north.
They have been accused of burning down villages, terrorising civilians and killing women and children.
However, the group retreated in the face of jihadists after around a dozen men were killed in gruesome attacks by ISIS terrorists.
They were believed to have been killed in ambushes and botched operations.
Mali: The Mali government employed 1,000 Wagner operatives in December.
Russian operatives are believed to have helped train coup plotters who took over last year.
‘The provisions brought in by the Economic Crime Act have streamlined the previous legislation so the UK can respond even more swiftly and effectively to the current crisis. The government will continue to tighten the screw and use sanctions to degrade the Russian economy on a scale that the Kremlin, or any major economy, has never seen before.
‘The UK has led the international sanctions effort, cutting off whole sectors of the Russian economy by targeting its defence companies, its trade and transport sector, and working with allies to exclude Russia from the SWIFT financial system.’
The sanctions also targeted Russian Railways, and defence company Kronshtadt, the main producer of Russian drones. Private military contractor Wagner Group has also been sanctioned.
They were among 59 individuals and entities added to the sanctions list which has been used to target Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Gazprombank is one of main channels for payments for Russian oil and gas. Alfa-Bank is one of Russia’s top private lenders, controlled by Mikhail Fridman, who was sanctioned by Britain earlier this month, and his partners.
Among the individuals sanctioned were oil tycoon Evgeny Shvidler, founder of Tinkoff bank Oleg Tinkov and German Gref, the CEO of Russia’s largest bank Sberbank, the Foreign Office said.
Maria Pevchikh, the head of investigations at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that Lavrov and Polyakova had been together for ‘around two decades’.
Questioning where Polina got the money to buy her apartment, Pevchikh said: ‘Polina’s biological dad isn’t superrich. She doesn’t have an oligarch husband. Yet aged 21, she bought a prestigious apartment on Kensington High Street for £4.4 million, and her lifestyle is like a “non-stop holiday”.’
Polina’s mother also enjoys ‘substantial assets’ that a Foreign Ministry apparatchik would almost certainly not be able to afford.
Property records show that she and her family own real estate in Russia and Great Britain worth about 1 billion rubles.
At the time this was worth $13.6million, although the ruble has since collapsed due to the debilitating war in Ukraine.
Lavrov is married to philologist wife Maria, and the couple have a daughter Ekaterina, 40, who was raised mainly in the US where he was posted as a diplomat. Despite this, Lavrov has been seen on foreign trips accompanied by Polyakova, who sometimes uses the female form of his surname, Lavrova.
Pevchikh said Polyakova and her daughter should have their assets frozen along with oligarchs such as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska. Her calls were backed by Labour MP Chris Bryant.
MPs had questioned why the Government’s list was still dwarfed by the hundreds of individuals and entities sanctioned by the EU and the US.
Layla Moran MP, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs and international development, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The Government is still way behind the EU and the US. The legislation hasn’t passed yet, so if they can act against Abramovich now, why not the others?’.
Moran called for action against 35 named ‘key enablers’ of Putin in the Commons last month, many of whom have been sanctioned in the EU or US but not in the UK.
This includes Viktor Zolotov, the head of Russia’s national guard whose family is one of the richest in Russia in the real estate sector; Anton Vaino, Putin’s chief of staff; and Mikhail Mishustin, the Russian prime minister.
Moran said that officials should also look at ‘the family and friends’ of Putin’s associates, as ‘one of the ways that they get around sanctions is to transfer funds and assets to family members’.
‘They should be included in the list and ideally it should be automatic,’ she said.
Speaking to broadcasters after landing in Brussels, Johnson said: ‘Vladimir Putin is plainly determined to double down on his path of violence and aggression.’
Describing Putin’s treatment of Ukrainians as ‘absolutely brutal’, he added: ‘We’ve got to step up. We’ve got to increase our support.
‘We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.’
Western officials had expected to be supporting a Ukrainian insurgency at this point in the war, rather than the nation’s army, which is holding up.
Johnson said: ‘We’re moving, really, from a programme of supporting resistance to supporting the Ukrainian defence of their own country.’
Praising him as ‘one of the most extraordinary war leaders of recent times’, Johnson said Zelensky wants tighter sanctions on Putin’s regime and ‘very specific defensive military support’ for his armed forces. And that, we’re determined to provide’.
He also hit out at Moscow’s bid to host Euro 2028, saying Russia should withdraw its forces and the football tournament should be handed to Ukraine.
The Wagner group (file picture) and Chechen special forces have allegedly been trying to kill the Ukrainian president since Russian troops launched a savage invasion of Ukraine on February 24
Vladimir Putin’s risk of being deposed by a Russian security-service led coup is growing every week, a whistleblower has claimed today. Pictured: Putin (second left) at a a gala even in November 2018 along-side senior Russian military figures
Destroyed buildings and a military vehicle are seen as civilians being evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol under the control of Russian military and pro-Russian separatists, on March 21, 2022
Pictured: A shopping mall lies in ruins after a Russian missile strike of the Russian troops in the Podilskyi district of Kyiv on March 23, 2022
‘The idea of Russia holding any kind of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire,’ he said. ‘The best thing possible would be for the entire Russian armed forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and to hand it to them, of course.’
However, those remarks came just a day after the UK and Ireland football associations submitted their joint formal interest in staging the tournament.
Ahead of the summit getting under way, Russian hoaxers, suspected of working for the Kremlin, released a full version of their video call with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. The MoD has warned the footage being trickled out, in which Mr Wallace thought he was talking to Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal, is doctored and propaganda.
Speaking to the imposter, Wallace says: ‘I’ve just been looking at our new anti-air missiles that we’re sending you, which is better than Stinger, it’ll work at night, it’s a very, very fast missile and it will help close the skys to Russian aircraft.’
NATO has refused Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone to be imposed over the nation out of fears it would drag the West into a direct conflict with Russia.
The hoaxers warned that a ‘prank’ call with Home Secretary Priti Patel will follow ‘soon’.
Ukraine destroys Russian landing ship after state media revealed its location with propaganda footage: Huge fireball rises over port that had been taken by Putin’s forces
Ukraine claims to have destroyed a huge Russian ship just days after state media filmed it unloading reinforcements at a captured port, as Putin’s army continues to suffer punishing losses at the hands of Kyiv’s men.
The Ukrainian navy said early Thursday that it had scored a direct hit on the Orsk, a 370ft Russian Alligator-class tank carrier, as it was sitting at anchor in the captured port of Berdyansk, in the south of Ukraine.
Multiple photos and videos showed flames and thick black smoke towering over the port. Just three days before the strike, Russian state media had filmed the Orsk at the port unloading armoured vehicles which it said would reinforce troops in nearby Mariupol – prompting speculation that Ukraine could use the video to target the vessel.
H I Sutton, a respected naval analyst, later said it is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that an Alligator-class ship had exploded at the port. It marks the largest ship that Ukrainian forces have managed to strike so-far and represents another embarrassing loss for Vladimir Putin’s beleaguered army.
It comes after NATO said Russia has lost up to 40,000 men either killed, wounded or captured in just over a month of fighting – or a quarter of the150,000 troops assembled ahead of the invasion. It means the force that remains is at risk of becoming combat ineffective, making it vulnerable to Ukrainian counter-attacks.
Flames and smoke are seen rising from what appears to be a Russian Alligator-class landing ship docked at the port of Berdyansk, in southern Ukraine, after Kyiv’s navy claimed to have destroyed a vessel called Orsk
Smoke and flames rise over the port of Berdyansk, located in the south of Ukraine and occupied by Russian forces, as Kyiv’s navy claimed to have hit the Orsk – a huge Russian tank-carrier
A fireball rises into the air over the port of Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port on the Sea of Azov which has been captured by Russian forces and was being used to ferry reinforcements to shore before it was struck
Counter-attacks appeared to be well underway on Wednesday, with Ukraine claiming to have recaptured territory to the west of Kyiv – leaving Russian forces at Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel at risk of being surrounded.
Should those men get cut-off from the rest of the Russian army – leaving them without food, ammunition and fuel – it could spark mass surrender and deal one of the most-crushing defeats of the war to date.
After days of conflicting reports about the situation near Kyiv, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said late Tuesday: ‘Ukrainian forces are carrying out successful counter attacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital, and have probably retaken Makariv and Moschun [to the west and north-west].
‘There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin.’
A further update on Thursday morning added that ‘Russian forces have almost certainly suffered thousands of casualties’ and that Vladimir Putin is looking to reinforce using private military companies – such as the Wagner Group – and foreign mercenaries, likely from Syria.
But, it added, it is unclear how these forces would be integrated into the regular Russian army and how effective they would prove to be in combat.
As Putin’s invasion continues to falter, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy called on people worldwide to gather in public Thursday to show support for his embattled country as he prepared to address U.S. President Joe Biden and other NATO leaders gathered in Brussels on the one-month anniversary of the Russian invasion.
‘Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,’ Zelenskyy said in English during an emotional video address late Wednesday that was recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. ‘Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.’
When Russia unleashed its invasion Feb. 24 in Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II, a swift toppling of Ukraine’s government seemed likely. But a month into the fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a grinding military campaign of attrition after meeting fierce Ukrainian resistance.
If the Orsk is confirmed as destroyed it would mark the largest vessel Ukraine has hit and another embarrassing loss for Vladimir Putin’s army
Ukraine’s navy reported Thursday that it had sunk the Russian ship Orsk in the Sea of Asov near the port city of Berdyansk. It released photos and video of fire and thick smoke coming from the port area. Russia did not immediately comment on the claim.
Russia has been in possession of the port since Feb. 27, and the Orsk had debarked armored vehicles there on Monday for use in Moscow’s offensive, the Zvezda TV channel of the Russian Defense Ministry said earlier this week. According to the report, the Orsk was the first Russian warship to enter Berdyansk, which is about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west along the coast from the besieged city of Mariupol.
To keep up the pressure on Russia, Zelenskyy said he would ask in a video conference with NATO members that the alliance provide ‘effective and unrestricted’ support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs.
Biden was expected to discuss new sanctions and how to coordinate such measures, along with more military aid for Ukraine, with NATO members, and then talk with leaders of the G7 industrialized nations and the European Council in a series of meetings on Thursday.
On the eve of a meeting with Biden, European Union nations signed off on another 500 million euros ($550 million) in military aid for Ukraine.
Heading in to the talks, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the alliance had already stepped up military support but needed to invest more to make good on pledged commitments.
‘The meeting today will demonstrate the importance of North America and Europe standing together facing this crisis,’ he said.
In its last update, Russia said March 2 that nearly 500 of its soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. NATO estimates, however, that between 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed – the latter figure about what Russia lost in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.
A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released – intentionally or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.
Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.
Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the West has not given an estimate, but Zelenskyy said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed.
With its ground forces slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya.
A senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) outside Kyiv, the capital, as they make little to no progress toward the city center.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said it appears the forces are no longer trying to advance into the city, and in some areas east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian soldiers farther away.
Instead, Russian troops appear to be prioritizing the fight in the eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the Donbas, in what could be an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities, the official said. The U.S. also has seen activity from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov, including what appear to be efforts to send landing ships ashore with supplies, including vehicles, the official said.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going ‘strictly in accordance’ with plans.
Footage posted online late Wednesday showed what appears to be a Russian tank exploding into a ball of flame after being struck by a Ukrainian guided missile, as Putin’s forces continue to suffer punishing losses
Ukraine says Russia has lost more than 500 tanks and thousands of vehicles during its invasion, with video uploaded Wednesday showing a tank getting destroyed in a Ukrainian attack
Freshly-dug graves to bury the victims of Russia’s invasion are seen in Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine which has been shelled by Russian forces in recent days
A woman wounded by Russian artillery strikes near Kyiv, Ukraine, is loaded into the back of a makeshift ambulance
A destroyed house is seen on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, after being struck by a Russian artillery shell on Wednesday
A burned-out car sits next to a badly-damaged house after Russian shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine
In an ominous sign that Moscow might consider using nuclear weapons, senior Russian official Dmitry Rogozin said the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.
‘The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any aggressor group within minutes at any distance,’ said Rogozin, who heads the state aerospace corporation, Roscosmos, and oversees missile-building facilities. He noted in his televised remarks that Moscow’s nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields, along with far more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.
U.S. officials long have warned that Russia’s military doctrine envisages an ‘escalate to deescalate’ option of using battlefield nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down in a situation when Russian forces face imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.
Rogozin, known for his bluster, did not make clear what actions by the West would be seen as meddling, but his comments almost certainly reflect thinking inside the Kremlin. Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw it into a conflict with Russia. Western nations have said they would not create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.
Zelenskyy noted in his national address that Ukraine has not received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.
‘It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,’ he said.
In Kyiv, where near-constant shelling and gunfire shook the city Wednesday as the two sides battled for control of multiple suburbs, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed since the war broke out. The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina had been killed by shelling in a Kyiv neighborhood on Wednesday.
In the south, the encircled port city of Mariupol has seen the worst devastation of the war, enduring weeks of bombardment and, now, street-by-street fighting. But Ukrainian forces have prevented its fall, thwarting an apparent bid by Moscow to fully secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.
In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is probably much higher. Airstrikes in the past week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians were sheltering.
Zelenskyy said 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which had a population of 430,000 before the war. Efforts to get desperately needed food and other supplies to those trapped have often failed.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge that was used for aid deliveries and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Kateryna Mytkevich, 39, who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped away tears as she said the city is without gas, electricity or running water, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed.