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Liz Truss urges allies to push Russian economy ‘back to Soviet era’

Liz Truss urges allies to push Russian economy ‘back to Soviet era’
Foreign secretary urges allies to hit Moscow harder, as Brussels proposes ban on Russian coal imports

Foreign secretary Liz Truss vowed to push Russia’s economy “back into the Soviet era”, as she called on the UK’s European allies to step up sanctions and hasten the end of dependence on Moscow’s fossil fuels.

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 countries to commit to a new wave of action ahead of meetings with G7 and Nato foreign ministers this week.

Ms Truss said she wanted Britain’s 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 proving 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 his government would back a EU ban on coal, and on oil if sanctions were extended, saying it was vital to keep the pressure on Moscow to stop its “immoral war” in Ukraine.

Italian prime minister Mario Draghi also backed the new sanctions proposals, 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 tightened sanctions on four Russian banks already been excluded from the SWIFT payment system – including the second-largest bank VTB – would leave them “totally cut off from the markets”. She added: “This will further weaken Russia’s financial system.”

The European 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 said earlier this week that “at the moment it’s not possible to cut the gas supplies”.

Energy policy expert Simone Tagliapietra with the Bruegel think tank said a EU coal ban “is important because it breaks the energy taboo”.

But he warned is was not “a game changer”, adding: “The big flow of money is certainly oil and gas, not coal, and that’s the issue”.

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawieck has criticised German chancellor Olaf Scholz for focusing on the “voices of German businesses” rather than the innocents killed in Ukraine.

Poland has committed to stop Russian oil and gas imports by the end of 2022. Speaking alongside Polish minister of foreign affairs Zbigniew Rau on Tuesday, Ms Truss praised the country for stepping up on sanctions and weapons supplied to Ukraine.

“Poland has always been clear eyed about Russia. You have understood Putin’s malign 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 called for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to launch an investigation into atrocities committed in Ukraine, including reports of rape and sexual assault.

“We will hold those responsible to account for what they’ve done, in particular the reports of rape,” Ms Truss said.

The foreign secretary praised the work Mr Rau has done as chair of OSCE, saying the body had already “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 organisations dealing with sexual violence.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the United Nations needed to be reformed to deal with Russia, which still has a veto on the UN Security Council with which it is able to block attempts to censure the Kremlin.

“This undermines the whole architecture of global security, it allows them to go unpunished so they are destroying everything that they can,” he said in an address to the UN Security Council.