Five ways Britain could really hurt Vladimir Putin

Sanctions don’t have to be weak. If Boris Johnson is truly willing to up the ante, here is how he could respond.

Alan Mendoza. 24 Feb, 2022

With Vladimir Putin having defied the international community’s attempts to prevent his aggression against Ukraine, Western efforts to intervene in this crisis will now have to move from the tactics of deterrence to those of punishment and roll-back. We should be under no illusions that the very existence of the rules-based international order is now at stake on Europe’s eastern fringes, as well as the credibility of organisations like Natoand the European Union that have pledged to protect and expand Europe’s democratic space. 

If the idea of Global Britain is to mean anything, this is the moment for its architect, Boris Johnson, to step up and lead the Free World in a suitable response to the magnitude of the challenge. In concert with our democratic allies, the UK has numerous options to up the ante and for the first time lead proactively in a conflict that has thus far been notable for allowing Mr Putin the luxury to dictate its pace and progression.

Closure of the Russian Embassy

The most obvious and immediate step in the creation of pariah status for Russia would be the coordinated closure of Russian embassies across the West and the expulsion of diplomats, as well as removing our own from Moscow. Such a move would serve as the baseline for a series of policies that would indicate a fundamental shift in the understanding of Russia as not a partner in diplomacy, but a threat to other nations. By invading Ukraine despite the warnings of the international community, Russia has placed itself beyond the bounds of civilised discourse. Its prestige should accordingly be diminished by a decision to effectively excommunicate it from the international community.

Cracking Down on Russian Propaganda and Influence Networks in the UK

Russian state outlets like Russia Today operate in the UK, spouting propaganda masquerading as journalism. These should be shut down straight away to prevent obvious misinformation. But Russia also possesses a network of those operating on its behalf in areas as diverse as politics, media and the law. Plans for declaration and registration of such “foreign agents” have previously been announced by the Government but not enacted. It is now time to introduce legislation so that those representing Russian state interests are forced to be open about who is paying their bills. 

Visa Cancellation and Asset Freezing of All Regime-Linked Russians in the UK

The UK is the favoured global destination for regime-linked oligarchs seeking both to purchase assets and to enjoy the benefits afforded by a free, liberal democratic state. As Russia has now proven beyond any doubt that its very basis as a state is antithetical to these ideals, the UK should immediately revoke visas and freeze the assets of those deemed to be linked to Putin’s regime in order to remind Russians of considerable power that they will be held responsible for the actions of a system that they are enabling through their support or acquiescence.

Supporting the Expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT International Payments System

Of all the possible economic sanctions that could now be applied to Russia, cutting Putin’s regime off from the SWIFT system of international payments would be the most far-reaching. Removing Russia’s ability to make international transactions using this common system would have a devastating effect on the Russian economy by triggering capital outflows and currency volatility. While the disruption would also hit buyers of Russian oil and gas, we cannot continue to bridge the chasm between Russia as a partner and adversary. A choice must be made, and Russia reminded that its actions require a decisive response. 

Establishment of a Safe Area in Western Ukraine

By far the boldest and strongest intervention the West could make would be the establishment of a Nato “Safe Area” in the western portion of Ukraine, secured by both ground and air power. Such a zone would only be created at the invitation of the free Ukrainian government and would be in keeping with international law as a result. While the precise borders would need to be delineated, its purpose would be to carve out an area in Ukraine which Russia could not cross into – and for all the belief in Putin’s bellicosity there is zero evidence that he would be prepared to engage in a military confrontation with the West – and thereby provide a haven for refugees and possibly the Ukrainian government should it be forced to depart Kiev. 

Most importantly, it is now time for Boris Johnson to draw a line in the sand beyond which we are not prepared to allow Mr Putin to push. It is incumbent on the leaders of the Free World, if they value this designation at all, to meet the challenge now before us.

Dr Alan Mendoza is the co-founder and executive director of the Henry Jackson Society


  1. Some comments from readers:

    Mark Dodds

    “Sever all ties, no flights no visas, no travel, no communications, cut the phones and internet. International isolation. Total and complete. UK can lead the way and if others don’t follow well who cares, at least we will see an impact on the Russians who come here and they will understand our mindset for once. Russian’s respect strength and basically bullying. Britons support the underdog, hate bullying and will doggedly defend those being bullied. We will refuse to bow down to threats. Russians hoping to come here and do business with us need to properly understand that solid grim and indomitable mindset. Let the weasel French do deals and the German’s try to make the best of whatever situation they are in, for us Brits it is ultimately to stand only for what is right.”

    Jay DR

    “1/ Kick out anyone known to Putin and freeze all their assets to pay for the re-building of Ukraine
    2) Ban Russians from travelling anywhere in the world
    3) Ban Russia from any Sporting competitions
    4) Issue a warrant for the arrest of Putin for crimes against humanity
    5) Cut off all internet connections to and from Russia”

    Steve Mitchell

    “The moment for economic sanctions may have passed -This is an illegal occupation of one Country by another and there’s only 1 course -A United Nato and a United Nations resolution for Miltary action by ourselves, the US and our Allies -We’ve all been lulled into a false sense of security over the years ,and our so called might in the face of evil is about to be tested again-This is what happens every so often in our so called “civilisation ” and it will happen again -so like before ,let’s do the right thing and set the example to bullies and serve justice properly -Good luck and God Bless.”

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