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Russia must face the highest possible sanctions for unspeakable war crimes in Ukraine


4 min read

As we come to the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our attention turns to the deliberate cruelty and violence being wrought on Ukrainian civilians.

We are co-chairs of the Ukraine All-Party Parliamentary Group and British Group in the Ukrainian Rada respectively and we have been working closely to study the unspeakable war crimes carried out by Russian forces. 

A week before the escalation of the Russian aggression, we met in New York at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting at the United Nations. Even then, Russia failed to respect basic international norms and IPU values. They sent heavies from the embassy to spout Vladimir Putin’s propaganda, as the drums of war grew louder.

Russia has broken every international humanitarian law, yet they remain a member of the UN Security Council

Now, almost a year later, our respective parliamentary groups have grown closer. We have also grown in scale and scope. The APPG and British Group in Ukraine have done broad, wide-ranging work. Ukrainian politicians have visited London, British MPs have travelled to Kyiv, and each visit is a contribution to the victory of Ukraine.  

In the United Kingdom there are politicians from all parties, with different priorities and interests. But we are united by support and solidarity with all Ukrainians – whether suffering the horrors of war directly, or those living in the UK or elsewhere.  

This year we are working hard to provide medical, humanitarian and winter supplies to Ukraine. We are working closely with Ukrainian MPs and local authorities to do it. We are also looking to the future; to rebuilding the country, and how best the UK can assist practically. The Ukraine Recovery Conference in London later this year will serve as a forum. It will unite Ukrainian business with British investors and facilitate dialogue between our governments and parliamentarians.  

Much more urgent work needs to be done by governments, including the UK, to look at ways we can legally and practically repurpose Russian sanctioned assets to support the defence and rebuilding of Ukraine. 

Russian landmines are planted indiscriminately in civilian areas. At the time of writing, explosives cover 30 per cent of Ukraine, equivalent to the territory of the entire UK. It is estimated that it will take at least 30 to 40 years to clear the land and make it safe again for agriculture, industry and life. 

The UK must support Ukraine in clearing landmines and other explosives, and work with organisations like the Halo Trust and the Mines Advisory Group to do so. We want to see the latest robot technology and ensure it is supplied to Ukraine as part of a UK support package. 

What we have seen in the last year in Ukraine is not new. It is a continuation of Russia’s strategy of destroying civilian populations and infrastructure which has been happening in Ukraine for a decade now, since the annexation of Crimea. Before that, we saw it in Syria and in Georgia.
The establishment of a Special Tribunal to investigate Russian aggression is long overdue. We desperately need to investigate the crimes committed under Putin, who has violated the rules of many multilateral organisations. As members of our parliaments’ IPU delegations, we have personally seen Russia’s abuse of the rulebook. Despite its flagrant crimes Russia continues to use its place on the UN Security Council, and in the UN more widely, to spread lies and propaganda.

Russia has broken every international humanitarian law, yet it remains a member of the UN Security Council. It has throttled the supply of grain to many of the world’s poorest nations, triggering food shortages and starvation. We want to see these abuses tackled by the highest sanctions the relevant multilateral organisations can bring. 

Though some of the challenges presented in this editorial may seem unthinkable and unfixable, we will work together to push for international dialogue. We will mobilise for Ukraine, practically and politically. We hope you will join us.


Alex Sobel is the Labour MP for Leeds North West and co-chair of the Ukraine APPG. Lesia Volodymyrivna Vasylenko is a member of the Ukrainian parliament.

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