West could target Russia’s gold reserves over Ukraine, says Boris Johnson.
Before Nato summit, PM says there are options to further squeeze Russian economy and aid Ukraine’s defences
By Jessica Elgot and Dan Sabbagh (The Guardian)
Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin has already “crossed a red line” that merits ramping up the west’s response, suggesting allies must send new weapons to Ukraine, expand curbs on international payments and target Russia’s gold reserves.
The prime minister said the UK would sanction the Wagner Group, a paramilitary unit that operates as Putin’s private army, whose mercenaries are reportedly tasked with assassinating the Ukrainian president and other key figures.
“We’ve got to step up, we’ve got to increase our support, we’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group,” Johnson told broadcasters before a Nato and G7 summits in Brussels on Thursday.
Overnight, the prime minister said the UK would double the number of British missiles sent to Ukraine by sending an additional 6,000, and send an extra £25m to Ukraine’s military, and officials suggested he would entreat European leaders to rapidly increase lethal aid.
Johnson said there were a number of options to further squeeze the Russian economy and aid Ukraine’s defences.
“We need to do more, and so we need to do more economically. Can we do more to stop him [Putin] using his gold reserves, for instance, in addition to his cash reserves?” he told LBC. “The more pressure we apply now, particularly on things like gold, I believe the more we can shorten the war … And then we need to do more to give the Ukrainians military support.”
Nato countries are expected to agree at Thursday’s emergency summit to provide special kit to protect Ukrainians against any chemical, biological or nuclear attacks launched by Russia.
Johnson said he would insist that the siege of Mariupol and the indiscriminate attacks on civilians should be seen as a new escalation, and that the use of chemical or biological weapons should not be the bar set for further punitive measures.
Western officials have said the Ukrainians and the Russians are running short of weapons as the conflict grinds on owing to a Ukrainian defence that been more successful than expected – and that they had anticipated they would be supporting a smaller Ukrainian insurgency by this stage.