Britain will push for EU sanctions targeting whole sectors of the Russian economy in the wake of the Ukraine plane disaster even if it means taking a short-term “hit” to the economy, its ministers said on Monday.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said “the time has now come for sanctions to be tightened further”, and stressed that inaction so far over the Ukraine crisis had “not served us well”.
EU foreign ministers meet on Tuesday to decide whether to impose sanctions if Russia does not press Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin separatists to allow access to the crash site of flight MH17 and reduce Moscow’s support for the rebels.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was due to address parliament on the issue later Monday.
Ten Britons were among the 298 people killed when their passenger jet crashed after what is believed to be a strike by a surface-to-air missile.
“We believe the time has now come for sanctions to be tightened further and that is precisely what we will be seeking to deliver in the meetings in the EU later this week,” Clegg told a monthly news conference.
He said it was time for the EU to move to “Tier 3” sanctions against Russia, which would block access to European markets for whole sectors of the Russian economy such as gas and oil.
“Let’s be clear, in doing so there might be some short-term economic effects in the UK as there would be in other European member states, but a failure to act with the right collective resolve in the EU, in my view, has not served us well in the last seven months.”
So far Brussels has only imposed second tier sanctions such as travel bans and asset freezes on members of Putin’s inner circle.
British finance minister George Osborne made a similar call for tougher sanctions.
“Any sanctions will have an economic impact and we are prepared to undertake further sanctions,” he told BBC radio.
“But think of the economic ‘hit’ of allowing international borders to be ignored, of allowing airlines to be shot down — that’s a much greater economic hit for Britain that we are not prepared to just allow that to happen.”
The EU has made preparations for third tier sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine but has not yet brought them into effect.
Britain and some eastern European states have been pushing for tougher action against Moscow.
However, London believes others are more reluctant, such as Germany, which relies on Russian energy supplies, and France, which has a contract to supply Russia with two warships.