UK sanctions against Russia: what impact will they have?

Theresa May’s package of diplomatic and economic measures against Russia is measured, focused but unlikely to put additional economic pressure on either Russia or Vladimir Putin’s entourage, British defence and diplomatic analysts have said.

Jonathan Eyal, an associate director at the military thinktank Rusi, said he had expected a stronger reaction. “There may be an element of seeing whether anything can be saved from the relationship. Simply blowing everything up to satisfy a media clamour is not the most sensible way of dealing with Russia.”

Rusi’s deputy director general, Malcolm Chalmers, said: “None of the measures in themselves will have any impact on Russian economic performance.”

Mathieu Boulègue, a Russia expert at Chatham House, another thinktank, said: “The Kremlin will understand this as a very mild response. Putin is unlikely to be worried by this.”

British officials described the package as calibrated, calm and fair, and said further options were on the table if the Kremlin did not change its behaviour.


The expulsion of 23 of the 58 accredited Russian diplomats is numerically smaller than a similar move by Alec Douglas-Home, the foreign secretary in Ted Heath’s government, in 1971. But since then the Soviet Union has collapsed and the Russian embassy in London is now commensurately smaller. Expelling 40% of the embassy over seven days is very significant, and the largest single expulsion in 30 years.

The decision to allow Russia’s ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, to remain reflects the fact that if he was expelled Russia could simply apply to replace him. Any decapitation of the Russian embassy would only lead to reprisals in the UK, and the UK still needs an interlocutor on Syria, even if many of the discussions on this occur at the UN.

All embassies are a mix of commercial, political and military attaches, but it is surprising that the UK believes that as many as 40% of Russian embassy staff were involved in intelligence. The Foreign Office said they will not be replaced for the foreseeable future, so crippling the Russian operation.

Closer monitoring of individuals

Chalmers said long-term measures such as greater monitoring of private jets and freight, alongside new powers to stop people on borders, were “an implicit admission that the intelligence services have been focused on counter-terrorism as opposed to state threats, notably from Russia.”

Financial crackdown

May stressed that there was no desire to target Russians in the UK, and the scale of the financial measures is limited. Neither the government…

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