Britain has imposed a new round of sanctions in relation to Russia’s “sham referendums” in territories it occupies in Ukraine.
The foreign office has announced the measures will include travel bans and asset freezes targeting 33 officials and “collaborators” involved in organising the votes on joining the Russian Federation, and four more oligarchs who have helped fund President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
A further 55 board members from state-linked organisations, including Gazprombank and Sberbank, involved in financing the ongoing invasion have also been hit.
Foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “Sham referendums held at the barrel of a gun cannot be free or fair and we will never recognise their results. They follow a clear pattern of violence, intimidation, torture, and forced deportations in the areas of Ukraine Russia has seized.
“Today’s sanctions will target those behind these sham votes, as well as the individuals that continue to prop up the Russian regime’s war of aggression. We stand with the Ukrainian people and our support will continue as long as it takes to restore their sovereignty.”
Voting in the referendum began last week in hastily organised and highly disputed voting in four occupied regions of Ukraine over the question of whether they should become part of Russia.
State media in Moscow said voting had got under way – in the “liberated territories” of Luhansk, Kherson and the partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. The results are expected to be announced on Tuesday, and are likely to dramatically escalate the seven-month war.
The referendums have been widely denounced by Ukraine and the West as shams that carry no legal force. Western leaders have said they will not recognise the results.
Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor for the region of Luhansk, said that in the Russian-held town of Bilovodsk, a company director had told employees the voting was compulsory and that anyone refusing to take part would be fired and their names given to the security services.
He also said that in the town of Starobilsk, Russian authorities had banned the population from leaving the city until Tuesday, and that armed groups had been sent to search homes and coerce people to go out and take part in the referendum.
“The mood of the Russians is panicky because they were not ready to carry out so quickly this so-called referendum, there is no support, there’s not enough people,” Yuriy Sobolevsky, the displaced Ukrainian first deputy chair of the Kherson regional council, said on Telegram.
The referendums have also been denounced as an illegal farce by US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron, and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, said the outcomes would have no legal bearing as they do not conform with Ukrainian law or international standards, and the areas are not secure.
During the vote, election officials will bring ballots to people’s homes and set up makeshift polling stations near residential buildings, according to Russian-installed officials in the occupied regions, who cited safety reasons.