Saturday, April 1

UK’s failure to walk away from Russian oligarchs’ money has enabled Putin’s aggression

The prospect of war on our continent is more than enough to turn our attention to something other than the problems of the British Government.

However, last week we were all surprised to hear Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a person who has had a hard time being honest throughout his career, speak to Parliament about the situation in Ukraine with a healthy dose of truth. “Ukraine asks for nothing except to be allowed to live in peace and make its own alliances, as every sovereign country has the right to do,” he said. A sentiment echoed by Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition; Ian Blackford, leader in Westminster of my own parliamentary group, the Scottish National Party (SNP); and all the other deputies of the SNP.

Having spent my life fighting for the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine their own future, sovereignty is a fundamental principle in my worldview. Seeing the great pressures that are being exerted against a State that has firmly proposed integration into a liberal democratic order is terrible. Like any European country, Ukraine must have the freedom to decide its alliances and its form of government as it sees fit.

A Europe divided into “spheres of influence”, in the style of the nineteenth century, would not allow the prosperity of small independent countries. The more equal and richer the nations of Europe, the more equitable relations between them should be. The great advances that countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have experienced in the last thirty years are proof of the energizing effects that independence has on Europe.

Illicit money from Russia to London

But my affinity with the prime minister on these principles did not last long. With question after question, the House of Commons brought him back to the subject of Russian funding in the British Conservative Party and that of the successive operations of influence in the United Kingdom style ‘Londongrad’ [eslavizaci├│n de la palabra Londres que alude al poder de grandes inversores rusos en la capital brit├ínica]. As long as the fortunes of the Russian elite remain abroad, the threats of economic sanctions against them are weak and ineffective.

Two and a half years have passed since the British Parliament published the “Report on Russia“, which exposed the links between the Kremlin and Russian-backed financial interests, with the consequent flows of illicit money through the City of London.

Britain’s allies are beginning to realize how intractable the problem is. The Center for American Progress, a think tank affiliated with the Biden Administration, stated last week in a report that “removing the oligarchs linked to the Kremlin will be quite a challenge considering the close links in the United Kingdom between money Russian and the press, the real estate sector, the financial industry and the Conservative Party currently in power.

But there are obvious mechanisms to avoid these practices. my government [en Escocia] has long called on Westminster to legislate against the misuse of scottish limited companyone of the favorite figures to abuse financial regulation for their own benefit, so that it stops facilitating the kind of financial corruption that has for too long benefited authoritarian heads of government and their wealthy cronies.

“Sport show”

Corruption and lack of transparency are a hindrance to liberal democracy and authoritarian heads of government have had a lot of experience using these scandals to tell the citizens who are beaten up by them that all forms of government are equal and that all Politicians are just as bad.

That is why the only thing I can do is ask the Prime Minister to take action on the matter at once. He must recognize that his government and his party have enabled this situation and he must recognize that the most determined action he can take to rebuild his government’s shattered reputation is at home.

“Without trust, liberal democracy cannot function,” wrote author and journalist Oliver Bullough in his book money land (Land of Money), packed with information on the “laundry” of money that is London. “No one is more to blame than we are that the wealthiest in Russia can treat the war like a sporting spectacle,” Bullough wrote more recently about the situation in Ukraine.

The temptation in times like this is to focus attention on individuals in government, but that can make us forget the role of factions fighting for power within the Russian security state and the pressures they are exerting on the situation. It can also make us forget about the oppression that is being exerted on 40 million Ukrainians, our fellow European citizens, as they go about their daily lives.

In a way, this is a reality that many have been grappling with since 2014, especially those in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine. As we grapple with the effects of our own shopping basket crisis, with rising food and energy prices, it is worth remembering that Ukrainians have been dealing with this for some time as a direct result of the actions of the Russian government.

Although the Ukrainians must defend themselves, and will defend themselves against aggression if diplomacy fails, we cannot help but see the circumstances that have led to this crisis. That includes allowing fortunes directly linked to the Putin regime to proliferate in the UK. On many occasions without paying the slightest attention to its origin or the influence it intends to exercise in British democracy.

* Nicola Sturgeon is the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

Translation of Francisco de Zarate