Britain toughens stance on Russia, as Russia presses NATO for assurances

LONDON — British lawmakers will be asked to consider legislation this week that would allow ministers to impose a wider range of sanctions on Russia if it acts against Ukraine, Britain’s foreign secretary said on Sunday.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss described the plan in an interview with broadcaster Sky News, casting it as part of a wide range of efforts to deter further attacks by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Britain is already supplying defensive weapons to Ukraine and has offered to increase its troop deployments elsewhere in Eastern Europe.

Also on Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said Russia would seek clarification from NATO on its intentions. days after the United States and its allies formally rejected Moscow’s demands for NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe and prevent Ukraine from joining the alliance.

Mr Lavrov’s comments in an interview with Russia’s main government television channel suggest that while Moscow is unhappy – as expected – with the Western response, there may still be a silver lining for further diplomacy.

But if diplomacy fails, Ms Truss said, UK legislation will give the country more punitive options, so there will be “nowhere to hide” for the oligarchs or “any business with an interest in the Kremlin and the regime in Russia”. Britain has long been a financial hub for wealthy and well-connected Russians, with a UK parliamentary report describing London as a ‘laundry’ for illicit Russian money.

While the UK Parliament typically takes weeks or months to pass a bill, emergency procedures allow it to legislate in as little as a day in certain circumstances.

Ms Truss said Britain would rule nothing out and ‘consider all options’ to support Ukraine, as the British government and its allies pursue diplomacy while developing economically punitive measures that could persuade Mr Putin not to invade.

“We are doing everything we can through deterrence and diplomacy to urge him to give up,” Ms Truss, who plans to meet Ukraine’s president and Russian foreign minister in the next two weeks, told the BBC.

Biden administration officials reiterated Sunday that the United States believes a Russian invasion is “imminent,” even as Ukraine tries to play down the crisis.

“We have been nothing but clear and transparent about our concerns here at the Pentagon regarding the rapid buildup over the past several months around the border with Ukraine and in Belarus,” said Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby, on “Fox News”. Sunday.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, made a joint appearance with the top Republican on the panel, Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho. Mr Menendez said there was “incredibly strong bipartisan will to have serious consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine, and in some cases for what it has already done”.

Mr Menendez said the legislation being discussed should include “massive sanctions against Russia’s most important banks: crippling for their economy, significant in terms of the consequences for the average Russian, their accounts and their pensions”.

Sanctions, however, were not Mr. Lavrov’s focus on Sunday – NATO was.

He said a formal request was sent on Sunday to NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an alliance that includes Russia. Mr Lavrov described it as “an urgent request to explain how they intend to fulfill their obligation not to increase their security at the expense of the security of others”.

“If they don’t intend to, then they have to explain why,” Lavrov said, adding that “that will be the key issue in determining our next proposals, which we will report to the Russian president.”

The Kremlin has strongly criticized NATO’s so-called open-door policy of granting membership to former communist bloc countries without considering Russia’s security concerns. In his remarks, Lavrov reiterated a frequent Kremlin complaint that NATO, in the years following the Soviet collapse, had crept closer and closer to the Russian border.

“Now they have come to Ukraine, and they want to train this country,” Lavrov said. “Although everyone understands that Ukraine is not ready and will not contribute to the strengthening of NATO security.”

While the temperature remained high between much of the West and Russia, a little political savvy apparently worked. Russia has backed out of a plan to conduct naval exercises next week in international waters off the Irish coast, which had drawn protests from Irish fishing groups and the Irish government.

The drills were to take place 150 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland, outside its territorial waters but within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area where the country has sovereign rights over resources marines.

Fishing groups have raised concerns that the activity could disturb marine life and jeopardize an area important to their trade. An organization had planned to protest the exercises peacefully.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney described the proposed drills in an interview last week with Irish public broadcaster RTE as “simply not welcome and unwanted at the moment”.

While acknowledging that Russia’s plans do not violate the international law of the sea, he said in a statement that his department had raised several concerns with Russian authorities “in light of the current political and security environment in Europe”.

Moscow then decided to move the drills outside of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone “as a sign of goodwill”, Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov said. said in a press release released on Saturday.

Mr Coveney said on Twitter that he welcomed Russia’s response.

Emily Cochrane and Helen Cooper contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael Schwirtz from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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