Feb 20, 2022 - World

Boris Johnson: West could cut off Russian companies’ access to dollars

Boris Johnson
Photo: Matt Dunham - Pool / Getty Images

The United States and United Kingdom could respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine by cutting off Russian companies' access to U.S. dollars and British pounds, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in an interview on Sunday with the BBC.

Why it matters: The prime minister's comments come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to criticize the West for claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade, but not imposing sanctions until the attack has begun.

  • "What are you waiting for? We don’t need sanctions after bombardment happens, after we have no borders, no economy. Why would we need those sanctions then?" Zelensky said on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference.

Driving the news: Zelensky's comments have re-upped the debate about the timing, scale and scope of the sanctions, with Johnson's remarks about a possible currency ban for Russian companies being among the most specific of the possible allied responses to date.

  • "We are even, with our American friends, going to stop them trading in pounds and dollars," Johnson told the BBC's Sophie Raworth in an interview. "That will hit very, very hard."

What they're saying: "The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence. But let's also recognize the unique nature of the sanctions that we have outlined," Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Sunday before departing Munich.

  • "These are some of the greatest sanctions, if not the strongest, that we've ever issued. As I articulated yesterday, it is directed at institutions — in particular, financial institutions — and individuals, and it will exact absolute harm for the Russian economy and their government."
  • "The sanctions are a product not only of our perspective as the United States but a shared perspective among our Allies," Harris said. "And the Allied relationship is such that we have agreed that the deterrence effect of these sanctions is still a meaningful one, especially because — remember, also — we still sincerely hope that there is a diplomatic path out of this moment."
  • Meanwhile, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the administration's view of sanctions as a deterrent. “Until the tanks are rolling, and the planes are in the air, we're going to try everything we possibly can to get President Putin to reverse the decision we believe he's made and to dissuade him," Blinken said.
  • "As soon as you trigger the sanctions, any deterrent effect they may have is gone.”
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