Foreign secretary Liz Truss has vowed to push Russia’s economy “back into the Soviet era”, as she urged the UK’s European allies to step up sanctions and hasten the end of dependence on Moscow’s oil and gas.
Ms Truss announced on a trip to Poland that the west had now frozen out more than $350bn from Putin’s “war chest”, making around 60% of the regime’s $604bn foreign currency reserves unavailable.
She said sanctions had already a “crippling impact” on the Kremlin – but urged EU allies to commit to a “tough” new wave of action ahead of meetings with G7 and Nato foreign ministers.
Ms Truss said she wanted partners to go further in sanctions by “cracking down on more Russian banks” and agreeing “a clear timetable to eliminate our imports of Russian oil, coal and gas”.
The call for action came as European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen proposed a EU ban on coal imports from Russia, a full transaction ban on four major Russian banks, and a ban on Russian ships accessing EU ports.
Ms von der Leyen said a ban on coal imports would be worth around £3.3bn a year and revealed that the EU has already started working on additional sanctions – including on oil imports.
But the Brussels chief did not mention gas, with consensus among the 27 EU member countries on targeting the fuel used to heat millions of homes across the continent providing more difficult to secure.
While the UK and US have said they were cutting off Russian oil and gas, EU countries had previously only announced efforts to gradually draw down their energy reliance on Russia.
The Irish premier Micheal Martin said he would back a proposed EU ban on coal, saying it was vital to keep adding pressure on Moscow to stop its “appalling and immoral war”.
Italian prime minister Mario Draghi also backed the proposed sanctions, saying the “atrocities” carried out in Ukraine must be punished as he called on Putin to halt the “massacre of civilians”.
Ms Von der Leyen said new sanctions imposed on four Russian banks – among the second-largest ban VTB – would mean they would be “totally cut off from the markets”, adding: “This will further weaken Russia’s financial system.”
The Eurepean Commission president added: “To take a clear stand is not only crucial for us in Europe but also for the rest of the world… A clear stand against the massacre of civilians. And a clear stand against the violation of the fundamental principles of the world order.”
The UK is understood to be keen for Germany to set a clear date for ending its Russian gas dependence as part of a “new wave” of punishment against Russia.
Though Berlin has agreed to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels by mid-2024, the German finance minister Christian Lindner had said “at the moment it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies”.
Speaking alongside Polish minister of foreign affairs Zbigniew Rau, Ms Truss praised the country for agreeing to step up both economic sanctions and weapons supplied to Ukraine.
“Poland has always been clear-eyed about Russia. You have understood Putin’s malignant intent. You were right,” she said.
The foreign secretary also condemned the alleged Russian massacre of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha – saying “these are appalling acts of the kind that we thought we left in the 20th century”.
She added: “We will hold those responsible to account for what they’ve done, in particular the reports of rape.”
She praised the work Mr Rau had done as chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), saying the body had “shone a vital spotlight on the atrocities committed across Ukraine by Russian forces”.
Ms Truss called for Russia to be suspended from the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, and pledged a £10m civil society fund for Ukraine – including support for organizations dealing with sexual violence.