European countries are finalising the details of sanctions to be placed on Russia, as Ukrainian protestors in London urged the UK government to implement “Iran-style” embargoes.

The UK, along with other EU members, will most likely freeze regime assets and introduce visa bans on individuals in an effort to force the Kremlin to withdraw troops from Crimea.

This week (March 10) in London, GTR spoke with protesters outside Russian bank VTB’s City of London headquarters, who urged David Cameron’s government to introduce sweeping trade and economic sanctions against the Russian state, rather than certain individuals. Stepan Shahno, a spokesperson for EuroMaidan London – the UK arm of the Ukrainian protest movement that demands closer integration with Europe, and which organised the protest – saying that other form of sanctioning will be “ineffectual”. He called for “the strongest sanctions possible” to be brought into effect.

Opponents of sanctions have claimed that should western governments freeze Russian assets in their own cities, then there is nothing to stop Russia’s president Vladimir Putin doing the same in Moscow.

However, Shahno says that the scale of bilateral investment is not comparable. “There is much more Russian money here in London [than vice-versa]. The UK’s largest company BP is not even operational in Russia anymore.” He added that while no UK government officials had responded to the protest at VTB, a vigil which is being held at the UK parliament has had huge support.

“We’ve had MPs, Lords and even people coming out from 10 Downing Street giving us support. Everybody is pro-Ukraine, we just need the [UK] government to back us up.”

He called on the UK government to enforce the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994, which pledges to “protect the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine’s borders”.

EuroMaidan London said VTB Bank is a “state vehicle for the Putin regime”. The organisation also accused the UK government of “putting its financial relationships with Russia and Russian oligarchs ahead of Ukrainian lives. The UK has the power to end the occupation of Crimea by cutting off Putin’s financial backers”.

The US has already frozen the US-held assets of Russians it holds responsible for “destabilising Ukraine”, as well as imposing travel sanctions on some Russians and Ukrainians. Certain EU governments have voiced their support for similar sanctions, but it seems unlikely that sweeping trade sanctions will come into play yet, particularly involving Europe.

Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, France and Italy all feature in the top six importers of Russian oil and gas. Combined, EU nations import 84% of Russia’s oil exports and 76% of its LNG, according to the Energy Information Administration. Trade sanctions would stop the flow of energy, forcing these countries to look elsewhere, for a likely higher price.

Europe is by far Russia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade topping €267bn in 2012, compared with €64bn for China, the second largest.

Russia imports much of the machinery and equipment used in its energy, mining and metals industries from Europe and while President Putin has been attempting to diversify its trading routes (last year, Russia and China entered into a series of jumbo oil agreements), widespread sanctions could cripple Russia’s economy.

Crimean citizens are preparing to vote on whether to join Russia, a ballot that the US and EU say it will not recognise. Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov has warned the Crimean parliament that if such a vote goes ahead, it will face dissolution, but says the country’s army will not be used to stop secession.

Meanwhile Putin has appeared to rule out a wider invasion of Ukrainian territory, a move which has been viewed as an attempt to diffuse the situation ahead