The Prime Minister’s comments followed a meeting of the Government’s emergency Cobra committee in Downing Street early on Tuesday morning and come hours after Russia’s ordered troops into the self declared republics of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine which have been held by Russian backed rebels since 2014.
With Ukraine urging the West to take tougher action against Russia, Mr Johnson also made it clear there would be further sanctions to come if the Russian President goes ahead with a full scale invasion of Ukraine.
“This is the first barrage of economic sanctions against Russia because we expect there is more Russian irrational behaviour to come,” Mr Johnson said.
“The intention is not just to hit the entities within Luhansk and Donetsk but those Russian economic interests that have been supporting Russia’s war machine, everything that is being done to support Russian activities in that area. They will hit Russia very hard and there is a lot more we are going to do in the event of an invasion.
“Be in no doubt that if Russia is prevented, Russian companies are prevented, from raising capital on UK financial markets, if we unpeel the facade of Russian ownership of companies, of property, this will start to hurt.”
The Prime Minister added that the West’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was too weak and that European countries reliant on Russian gas should now look for alternative energy supplies.
“One of the most important things we have got to understand, looking back on 2014 and the annexation of Crimea and what happened then in eastern Ukraine, we have to recognise we were not tough enough,” Mr Johnson said.
“In the end we didn’t do enough as Europeans to ween ourselves off Russian oil and gas.”
With London long seen as a haven for “dirty Russian money”, British Government must now decide will now slap sanctions on wealthy Russian oligarchs who have homes and business interests in the UK.
But both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary Sajid Javid appeared to confirm on Tuesday that the UK would be prepared to go that far. Mr Javid said Britain would target sanctions against “individuals who have close contact with the Russian regime” along with “certain economic sectors”.
What sanctions could the UK impose?
Under new legislation laid in Parliament on February 10, the UK now has the power to target Russian businesses and individuals with links to the Kremlin and not just involved in destabilising Ukraine or undermining or threatening its territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence.
The widening of the “designation criteria” means the UK can now target entities affiliated to the Russian Government and businesses of economic and strategic significance to Moscow, as well as their owners, directors and trustees.
The legislation states sanctions can now be targeted at economic and strategically significant sectors, such as the chemical, defence, mining, tech, financial services, construction, energy and transport industries.
It also widens the net sufficiently to target people not only directly owned or controlled by the Russian Government but also those who may work indirectly for the Russian Government, its affiliated bodies or associates.
It also states that the sanctions may be aimed at individuals who receive financing directly or indirectly from the Russian Investment Fund of the National Wealth Fund.