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Keir Starmer Calls For UK Ban On Russian State-Controlled TV Network Amid Calls For Tougher Sanctions

5 min read

Keir Starmer has called for the Russian state-controlled television network, Russia Today, to have its UK operation shut down in response to the advance of Russian troops into south-eastern Ukraine on Monday.

The Labour leader’s call followed a statement in the Commons by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday afternoon, confirming that five Russian state banks and three high net-worth individuals in Britain will be sanctioned effective immediately.

Boris Johnson said that Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank would all be hit, alongside Russian nationals Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg.

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office later confirmed that in line with the European Union, members of the Russian Duma and Federation Council who voted to recognise the independence of the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions will also face sanctions. 

Johnson insisted that today's sanctions are only "the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do", and that alongside the US and EU, the UK would be willing to go further if the situation in Ukraine continues to escalate.

A FCDO official confirmed that today's sanctions package is just a “flavour” of harsher restrictions to come.

Legislation could be brought forward to hand additional powers to government, allowing them to target high tech exports to Russia and prevent the Russian state from issuing sovereign debt on UK markets. 

While the sanctions against banks and individuals were welcomed, Starmer joined a chorus of MPs on both sides of the Commons this afternoon who insisted that the government “must be prepared to go further” on measures against Russia. .

The Labour leader called on the Prime Minister to block Russia from a wider range of financial systems, including the SWIFT system for payments.

He also called for Johnson to revoke the broadcast license of Russia Today, which is currently allowed to air Russian state propaganda on Freeview television across the UK.

"We must be prepared to go further. I understand the tactic of holding back sanctions on Putin and his cronies to try to deter an invasion of the rest of Ukraine, but a threshold has already been breached," Starmer said.

"A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrication. If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits of aggression outweigh the costs,” he added.

Responding to Starmer, RT's Deputy Editor-in-Chief Anna Belkina said: "Always a joy to see Western and particularly British politicians finally drop their hypocritical disguise in favor of open interference in institutions they touted as supposedly totally independent and wholly free from political pressure and interference".

Johnson insisted that today's sanctions are only "the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do", and that alongside the US and EU, the UK would be willing to go further if the situation in Ukraine continues to escalate. 

On Tuesday the European Union proposed its own sanctions package in response to Putin's invasion of the Donbas region of Ukraine. 

Any individuals involved in the decision to invade, which diplomats estimate includes 351 members of Russia's Duma parliament, will be sanctioned, alongside banks financing the Russian military.

Russian state and government access to EU financial markets and services will also be halted, as will trade between the EU and the two separatist regions recognised by Putin. 

Former Tory leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith was among several MPs who told the Commons the government's current sanctions package should already be stronger. 

“If we are going to hit [Russia] with sanctions we should hit them hard and hit them now,” he said.

“They need to feel the pain of the first part of this decision.”

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey called for the assets of “every single one of Putin’s cronies in the UK” to be frozen and then seized. He also believed that Johnson should reverse government cuts to armed forces and “no longer tolerate” sporting and cultural events hosted in Russia, such as the forthcoming Champions League final due to be held in St Petersberg in May

Labour MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia, Chris Bryant, said he is anxious “we are not going anywhere near hard enough today”.

“In 2014, we were spineless in the end,” Bryant said.

“We didn’t show enough resolve across the West or in the UK. We didn’t close the dirty money coming into the UK.

"Everybody in this House will work with the government to deliver far more effective and secure sanctions if the Prime Minister asks, but they have to be now”.

Bryant also pointed out that Roman Abramovic, the Russian owner of Premier League club Chelsea FC, has not yet been sanctioned.

Abramovic has been described as a close friend of Putin and the origins of his wealth have formerly been questioned by the UK government.

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