The Kremlin has said it will take countermeasures against the UK after the British government imposed sanctions on Monday against senior Russian officials including a close ally of Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s press spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Moscow would respond to the decision by the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to put 25 Russians on a new sanctions list. One of them is Alexander Bastrykin, Russia’s top prosecutor and the head of the investigative committee.
The UK sanctions against individuals in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar and North Korea include asset freezes and travel bans. The measures came into force immediately.
The Russians included on the list drawn up by the Foreign Office were allegedly involved in the death and mistreatment of Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after he was refused medical treatment and was beaten up.
A lawyer and tax auditor, he had exposed a $230m (£182m) fraud carried out by interior ministry officials. The same officials put him in jail. The government has imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Bastrykin as well as on investigators, judges, and medical and prison staff.
It is unclear what form the Kremlin’s countermeasures might take. In 2012 Putin banned the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans after the US Congress passed similar Magnitsky legislation. It is possible Moscow will respond asymmetrically, by targeting British companies with offices in Russia.
The Russian embassy in London condemned the sanctions. It said the country’s legal system was independent of the authorities and “guided by law alone”. The designations were counterproductive, it added, warning that they “will not improve Russian-British relations”.
“We are particularly appalled by the designation of top officials of the prosecutor general’s office and the investigative committee of the Russian federation, as well as judges,” the embassy said.
“The decision … reflects the self-declared status of the UK as the global leader in sanctions policy. All questions regarding the circumstances of Mr Magnitsky’s death have been answered long ago. Today’s decision was quite obviously conceived merely as a public move.”
Relations between the two countries have been bad for years. In 2018 the Russian government kicked out 23 British diplomats, in retaliation for the expulsion of 23 Russian suspected spies from the embassy in London. The then prime minister, Theresa May, ordered the expulsion following the novichok attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
The Kremlin has previously taken aim at the British Council. It shut the council’s offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg in 2007 after the Labour government expelled three diplomats for the polonium teacup murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The cultural body’s Moscow HQ was shut in 2018.