Will Tories return Russian money as Putin threatens war? | Keir Starmer
RRegardless of what unfolds in the days and weeks ahead, the fact that Vladimir Putin is once again threatening and stalking the world stage demands that those of us who are committed to peace take action. In the UK, that means getting our own house in order.
Let there be no doubt: when it comes to fighting Russian aggression, Labor stands with the British government and our allies. Those who dither between the actions of Russia and NATO are misguided or worse. The unified approach of recent weeks has surprised the Kremlin precisely because it is so used to meeting division. These divisions have contributed to decades of failed relations with Russia.
Putin’s playbook is well known. He prefers chaos to order, the fog of war to a clear strategy. It takes a nihilistic, zero-sum approach to foreign policy. Illicit money and influence are used as a judo move that turns the openness and freedom of Western democracies into weaknesses. During almost 12 years of Tory rule, the tendrils of the Kremlin have been allowed to coil around the UK, making London the ‘money laundering capital of the world’. A cottage industry has been created that responds directly and indirectly to the bidding of those linked to Putin. Last week it was revealed that £1.5bn of UK ownership had been rounded up by Russians accused of corruption or linked to the Kremlin. They are not there for the weather: they see us as a sweet person, a place where they can hide money without asking questions.
The Prime Minister’s recent tough speech couldn’t even be described as the closing of the stable door after the horse has left: it’s more like a reflection on what a good idea to have a door would be. In 2018, the Municipalities the Foreign Affairs Committee said that “reacting in an ad hoc manner to Kremlin behavior has led to a disjointed approach” and that “assets… support Putin’s campaign overthrow the rules-based international system”. Priti Patel was part of this committee. It wouldn’t have taken nearly four years, the mustering of over 100,000 Russian troops and the threat of war for the Conservatives to act.
While they refused to act, Labor drew up a serious plan to root out corruption. This entails greater transparency on company ownership through reform of Companies House, strengthening law enforcement resources and powers in relation to money laundering, updating anti-money laundering laws espionage and the creation of a register of parliamentarians and peers serving on the boards of foreign companies. By supporting him, the government could begin to undo Putin’s grip and restore Britain’s reputation.
It seems like common sense. So why isn’t it happening? The answer may lie in the Conservative Party minutes. Taking nearly £2million in donations since Boris Johnson took office in 2019, they’ve become just as addicted to Russia-linked money as any of the worm-tongued services of the oligarchic wealth. It is welcome that conservatives are finally waking up to the dangers of Russian money. But it’s not long since the Prime Minister was selling himself as a tennis partner in exchange for donations and David Cameron was making credulous speeches in Moscow. The Conservative Party, its MPs and its associations should give back all the money they took. It’s the only way to show that the days of turning a blind eye to kleptocratic loot are over.