Ukraine-Russia crisis: After Vladimir Putin orders invasion, his regime must be made an international pariah – Scotsman comment

The stench of Russia’s corrupting influence on the UK and other liberal democracies has been overwhelming for years.
Supporters of Ukraine demonstrated in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin yesterday (Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)Supporters of Ukraine demonstrated in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin yesterday (Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)
Supporters of Ukraine demonstrated in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin yesterday (Picture: John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)

But despite any revulsion at interference in democratic elections, disinformation, propaganda, cyberattacks, poisonings, murders, Crimea’s annexation, and support for Syrian butcher Bashar Assad, many ill-gotten fortunes of Russian oligarchs have been eagerly laundered by the City of London and upmarket property firms happy to hold their nose.

This has inadvertently put the UK in a strong position to enforce sanctions that will cause genuine pain to Vladimir Putin’s acolytes following the Russian president's decision to invade Ukraine.

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But instead, the measures announced by Boris Johnson yesterday, affecting just five banks and three wealthy Russians, were underwhelming in the extreme.

The Prime Minister stressed they were just the opening shots of a “barrage” to come, but this only served as warning to other likely targets to get their money out. Cynics might even see it as a rather public tip-off.

Attempting to use economics to stop tanks rolling further into Ukrainian territory was always going to be difficult, particularly as Putin will have ‘priced in’ a response.

The UK should be taking steps as dramatic as Germany’s decision, at considerable cost to itself, to suspend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

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Yet when asked by Conservative MP Nickie Aiken if he would support calls for Russian oligarchs’ children to be removed from British private schools as part of the sanctions package, Johnson said he would not.

So while Ukrainian children face losing their homes, their parents and, possibly, their lives, life for the families of Russia’s pro-Putin rich – oligarchs who fall out with him tend to get in trouble – will continue as idyllically as before.

If anyone doubts the threat to innocents, Human Rights Watch has raised fears that Russian troops could adopt a “war crimes strategy” in Ukraine if the situation escalates.

Its executive director Kenneth Roth said in Syria, where Russian forces supported Assad, there had been “repeated instances of deliberately targeting civilian institutions, that is to say hospitals, schools, markets, apartment buildings” and that this “gives us a sense of the way the Russian military has been fighting recently”.

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Putin’s regime has been playing a long game with the aim of rebuilding his own version of the Soviet empire, while the UK and the West have played along for the money. It is now time to bring this foolish attempt to dance with a devil to a hard stop.

The UK government should rapidly introduce much tougher measures and also start long-term planning to turn Russia under Putin or a like-minded successor into a pariah state.

Russian oligarchs should not be allowed to buy the benefits of democratic freedoms while propping up or failing to oppose tyranny at home.

Preventing them from investing in UK companies, making shopping trips to Harrods, or sending their children to Eton might seem unfair on some individuals, but a message needs to be sent to all Russians that what Putin is doing in their name is abhorrent and unacceptable.

The UK must cleanse itself of the corruption of its society by Putin and his rich friends, but this crisis will only end when Russia sets its house in order.

As Johnson’s actions failed to live up to his rhetoric – a view clearly shared by some Conservative and many Opposition MPs – his predecessor Theresa May spelt out what is at stake. “What lies behind this is a wider worldwide trend of authoritarian states trying to impose their way of thinking on others... the battle in which we must now engage is nothing more or less than the defence of democracy itself.”

How anyone could agree with her remarks, as Johnson did, and view the UK’s current response as anything but pitifully inadequate is impossible to fathom.

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