Ian Austin MP

Labour MP for Dudley North

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Austin calls for tougher measures against Russia

Speaking in the House of Commons debate on Ukraine, Ian Austin called for tougher measures against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.

He said that Russia should be expelled from the G8, called for tougher sanctions and listed Russian assets that should be seized in the UK, including those owned by Putin’s “elite cronies and financial backers” in the UK.

Full text of the speech:

This is the first time since the end of the Second World War that part of a sovereign European country has been annexed by another nation. He is also right to draw attention to the Budapest memorandum, because when we and the Americans signed it in 1994, we gave assurances to protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and security.

The Prime Minister has said that Russia has committed a “flagrant breach of international law”, that what has happened is “unacceptable” and that this is “the most serious crisis in Europe this century.”

However, the European response, as the former Foreign Secretary, the right honourable and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), said earlier, has been absolutely pitiful.

Limited measures on visas and assets have been announced for just 22 people, not a single one of whom is a member of Putin’s inner circle. European leaders might have wanted to send a signal without escalating the situation, but Putin’s response, which was to legitimise the outcome of the ludicrous and illegal referendum held over the weekend, was contemptuous.

Not content with moving Crimea to Russian time, Putin clearly wants to turn the clocks back completely to before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Putin—a former KGB officer who has said himself that he regards the collapse of the iron curtain as a huge mistake—has made no secret of his belief that Russia should control former Soviet republics.

We have to ask ourselves what has actually changed for Putin, given that, to all intents and purposes, he is a brutal, cold war, Soviet-style dictator, terrorising his opponents at home, murdering them abroad, invading other countries and supporting terrorists such as Assad in conflicts elsewhere.

The only thing that does appear to have changed is that, as we saw with Syria, the west has become utterly impotent, weaker than ever before and unable—or unwilling—to stand up for its values, preferring instead to allow Russian oligarchs to use often ill-gotten gains to buy up huge swathes of London, our businesses, our football clubs and even our newspapers.

We should be pressing much more urgently for much more robust sanctions, such as further asset freezes and visa denials to members of the Duma who voted in favour of providing military support to Ukraine, thereby supporting Russia’s illegal invasion and continued occupation of Ukrainian sovereign territory.

We should seize the foreign currency assets of the Russian Government, Russia’s central bank and Russian state-owned companies. It is estimated that two thirds of the $56 billion moved out of Russia in 2012 were the proceeds of crimes, bribes to state officials and tax fraud.

Let us make Putin’s elite cronies and financial backers choose between supporting his dictatorship at home and invasions abroad on the one hand and their wealth on the other. We should change the locks on their fancy apartments in Kensington, board up the mansions they have bought in the home counties, and empty their bank accounts to show them that the west will not tolerate the sort of brutality and corruption that passes for government and business in Putin’s Russia.

We should kick Russia out of the G8 — I think that is absolutely clear.

The summit due to be held in Sochi in June should be cancelled and Russia should be suspended from the Council of Europe.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s earlier statement about military exports, but Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation should be suspended and existing trade negotiations cancelled.

Putin will obviously use western dependence on Russia’s state-owned and state-controlled energy companies to try to ward off tougher measures, so we must decrease that dependence in the long term and we should immediately explore how western energy imports can be diversified away from Russia.

The truth is that the west needs to decide which is more important: our values and commitment to democracy, freedom and the rule of law or the dubious benefits of the west’s commercial relationships with Russia.

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