Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Putin all aquiver


It is, just about, possible that the Russian oligarchs sanctioned yesterday by the corrupt kleptocracy in London are even more stupid than Boris Johnson and his ministers. Possible, but highly unlikely. Assuming that it is rather more probable that they are at least marginally brighter, and given the months of warning that they had been given, it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that they will have taken steps to move at least part of their liquid assets into friendlier territories, such as the myriad tax havens which operate with impunity under the ‘supervision’ of the British state. And even if they didn’t do that, we can surely be certain that the others who have not yet been sanctioned are in the process of taking such action right now.

Putin, of course, having been told that sanctions the like of which have never been seen before were on their way, is now quaking in his boots at learning that a few cronies who’d been given enough warning to take evasive action are now going to be barred from laundering their money openly in London, and will be compelled to do it opaquely from behind secretive companies established under British protection elsewhere. And if those threatened with the next round of sanctions are already making plans to do the same, then the UK’s money markets will actually gain rather than lose from these sanctions, because the UK’s overseas territories provide some of the best and most secretive havens for dirty money anywhere in the world. The competitive advantage of avoiding regulations applied elsewhere might almost be called a Brexit bonus.

The gulf between words and actions might not, though, be so hard to reconcile. We simply need to remember that the current government’s understanding of ‘the economy’ is limited to ‘that which enriches me and my friends’. Appearing to target the mega-rich of Russia whilst protecting the interests of London’s money launderers comes entirely naturally to anyone from that perspective. And it’s hardly as if Johnson saying one thing and then doing another will come as any sort of surprise to anyone – least of all Putin.

As to the substance of the Russian action which has led to this, it’s worth considering for a moment whether there is much of a difference between the UK sending troops to Estonia on the border with Russia, and Russia sending troops into the Donetsk republic on the border with Ukraine. In both cases, they were invited by the de facto government of an ‘independent’ country. The difference resolves around that word ‘independent’, or more specifically, around international recognition of that ‘independence’. It’s not the first time that territories have unilaterally declared themselves independent and it won’t be the last. And it’s not the only time that a country making such a declaration is recognised by some but not by others. The thing that is missing in all this is that neither Russia nor Ukraine seems to have the slightest interest in ascertaining the wishes of the people living inside the two new republics, even if a free and fair vote were an attainable outcome in current circumstances. Whether ‘the West’, including the UK, should be backing Ukraine’s claim to the territory or recognising the new republics ought to depend on the wishes of the people living in them, a consideration which doesn’t even seem to be on the table. We are, instead, being driven by the rivalries of the ‘great powers’, in a way which is reminiscent of centuries gone by rather than the realities of a globally connected and interdependent world. We can only hope that repeating the mistakes of the past doesn’t lead to a repeat of the outcomes of the past.

No comments: