A Ukrainian activist has challenged Boris Johnson over the UK’s failure to impose swift sanctions on Russians residing in London, during an emotional intervention at a press conference in Poland.
Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, also lobbied Johnson over NATO countries’ collective refusal to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Kaleniuk told Johnson, who was giving a press conference in Warsaw after talks with her Polish counterpart, that she was from Kyiv and had crossed the Polish border in recent days.
“Ukrainian women and Ukrainian children are in deep fear because of the bombs and missiles coming from the sky. The Ukrainian people are desperately asking for the right to protect our skies, we are asking for a no-fly zone,” she said.
“What is the alternative to the no-fly zone? NATO is not ready to defend because NATO is afraid of the third world war but it has already started and it is the Ukrainian children who are taking the hit.
“You talk about more sanctions, Prime Minister, but Roman Abramovich is not sanctioned, he is in London, his children are not in the bombings, his children are over there in London.”
Johnson replied: “I just want to say that I am fully aware that we cannot do enough as the UK government to help you in the way you want. I have to be honest about this. When you talk about the no-fly zone… unfortunately that implies that the UK would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes, would be engaged in direct combat in Russia. It’s not something we can do.
He said the UK was among the first to “tighten the economic noose” around Putin’s regime, and that “Putin and Putin alone” were responsible for the suffering of the Ukrainian people.
Abramovich, the Russian billionaire who recently handed over the management of Chelsea FC to a charitable foundation, has reportedly traveled to Belarus to try to help broker peace. Chris Bryant, a Labor MP, told parliament last Thursday that Abramovich should be punished.
Abramovich has vehemently disputed reports suggesting his alleged closeness to Vladimir Putin or that he did anything to deserve punishment.
Johnson is coming under increasing pressure over the UK’s slowness to impose sanctions on oligarchs close to Putin, with the only asset freezes and travel bans to date targeting Gennady Timchenko, Russia’s sixth-richest oligarch, as well as Boris and Igor Rotenberg.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has registered 35 Russians in parliament who have been suggested by imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny as possible targets for sanctions.
Johnson acknowledged on Tuesday that more could be done to strengthen the sanctions. “There is clearly more to be done on [the payments system] Swift, we can tighten Swift even further, although it has already had a dramatic effect, I think we need to go further,” he said.
“There is more to do on Sberbank, there is more to do on freezing Russian assets. I think there is genuine amazement and dismay in Russia about what has already happened, but there is still much to do.
There could be more “severance of sporting ties” and “crackdown on billionaires associated with Vladimir Putin”, he added.