The sanctions pushed by Western governments in recent weeks against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his circle of oligarchs, after decades of investments and extravagance in the West, was long overdue.
Such vast levels of financial investments into the UK and elsewhere from Putin Inc should never have been allowed from the outset in the early 2000s.
UK governments should not have waited until Putin invaded Ukraine for the umpteenth time before taking these drastic steps which seems too little too late. But the Tory party/government in particular have been long tarnished by their links to the Russian financiers and donors.
Back in the early days of the surge in oligarch investment in the UK some critics were miffed at how Labour and then Conservative/Liberal Democratic governments seemed so receptive to the incoming wealth from Putin Inc.
The idea that Chelsea Football Club was allowed to be bought by Putin-ally Roman Abramovich was gross. That purchase showed a poor level of judgement by the relevant London-based regulators as well as pure greed from key stakeholders.
Even I raised the issue of the Abramovich purchase of Chelsea F.C. in 2003 with a civil servant from the Department of Culture, Media & Sports.
Why would anybody put so much money into any football club much less Chelsea? It just did not make sense unless the investment came with Putin’s blessing.
Read:[Guardian July 2003 – Tony Banks MP, the former sports minister, has called for the government to look into the deal which has seen a controversial Russian billionaire buy Chelsea in a deal worth up to £140m]
I agree with the recent comments made by Simon Jordan (former football club owner and radio presenter) when he said “good riddance” to Abramovich now that he is now forced to sell Chelsea.
Thankfully, the Boris Johnson administration has woken up from its groveling approach to the UK-based Russian oligarchs and just froze all of their (incl. Abramovich’s) UK assets.
The vast of amount of money Abramovich infused into Chelsea was so obscene and turned the football industry upside down. Roman brought out the worst in football spending by facilitating the kind of wealth for very few English football clubs to thrive whilst the rest of the 92 clubs in the top 4 leagues forever running on debt.
[I have nothing against Chelsea F.C., it was the first club my dad took me to watch a live football match. The likes of Peter Osgood, Ron “Choppa” Harris and Jon Hollins were some of my favorite players.
But when Roman took over with the wealth he was pumping in I lost interest for that club.]
The UK governments since 2000s – then under the Labour Party – were slow to realise that the huge wealth coming from Russia was Putin’s soft powering way influencing British society. Putin was winning in Western Europe with this ostentatious approach to English football.
UK Government Regulator’s Standard Lost its Independence
What was equally stunning to me during that period of Putin Inc’s wealth crusade in the UK was when in 2009 the authorities allowed for the former KGB chief operative, Alexander Lebedev, and his group to take ownership of key British newspapers in the London Evening Standard and The Independent papers.
The current Tory government can act all outrage today by the oligarchs’ manipulative wealth in London but the Evening Standard under Lebedev was turned into even more pro Conservative Party publication and not only backed Boris Johnson for mayor of London and PM, the Standard hired George Osborne (former Tory govt finance minister) as its editor (2017-2020).
When Lebedev’s company took over the The Indy papers you could see a gradual shift in its Russian reporting where there was little to no criticism of Putin.
Read: Lebedev buys Independent newspapers
When objections were raised as to the influx of Russian money the usual remarks from some local officials were that they feared such trillions would end up elsewhere such as Frankfurt and the City could lose its influence on the global market.
The Russian soft power wealth in the West set a precedent that allowed powerful figures from similar autocratic nations to flood their countries’ unlimited wealth easily into Western Europe.
The only UK publication during that whole period that kept the public aware of the gluttony of finances from the oligarchs, the Arab sheikhs and not forgetting China was the magazine Public Eye.
Sunni Middle Eastern Powers Next for the Freeze?
The Saudi Arabian government has long been linked in numerous report to the events behind the US 9/11 bombings of 2001 and other barbaric actions such as mass executions.
But that has not stopped the Saudi government from using its wealth to create allies at the heart of certain Western governments especially the UK and US.
When he was British PM, Tony Blair once blocked his own fraud investigators from probing possible corruption practices by Saudi officials in relation to military procurements. Blair feared the potential loss of revenue from arms sales to the Saudi government.
Since 9/11, US presidents have blocked numerous attempts by the US Senate and Congress to officially condemn or punish the Saudi government for 9/11.
Again, loss of arms sales and national security issues were some of the excuses given by US presidents to blocking legislative measures.
Read: Obama Vetoes Bill to Let 9/11 Families Sue Saudi Arabia
Read: Trump Vetoes Bills Intended To Block Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia
The Saudi government has their own geo-politically led bloodbath in Yemen backed up by their allies incl. United Arab Emirates (UAE). Kuwait and Bahrain.
According to the UN the 8-year war in Yemen by the Saudi government would have cost the lives of 377,000 people by the end of 2021.
Yet there has been continued silence from the same Western governments who are now sanctioning the oligarch’s assets for Putin’s invasion.
This kind of barbaric carnage by the Saudi government did not stop the Boris Johnson administration from authorising the sale of £1.39bn in arms during July- September of 2021.
The world of sport has been a useful avenue for autocratic nations such as the Saudi, Qatari & UAE government to use their sovereign wealth funds in order to enhance their personal reputation on the Western stage.
Only recently the English Premier League approved the Saudi government’s Sovereign Wealth Fund ownership of Newcastle Football Club. The UAE government is the owner of Manchester City Football Club.
In 2008 the UAE government had bought Manchester City Football Club from previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra (former prime minister of Thailand) who himself was found guilty of corruption in his home country and is on the run hiding in Dubai.
Global sporting governing organisations such as FIFA, UEFA and IOC have damaged the image of their sports when they played major roles in escalating Putin’s soft power globally by allowing Russia to host major sporting events such as the football World Cup, Champion League Finals and the Olympic Games.
The organisers of the top flight football in England and France have allowed football clubs to be taken over by nation states or individuals with strong links to governments mentioned earlier as well as China.
But prior to Putin’s soft power approach in the West one of the earlier drivers of financial influence in the West was the Maktoum royal family who run the UAE state of Dubai.
Under the leadership Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s wealth fund has been the biggest investor in European horse racing since the 1980s.
Newmarket in central England is considered the headquarters of flat racing in Europe and it is fair to say that Sheikh Mohammed’s investment was driving force and some will kept the racing industry afloat.
When a UK family court ruled in 2020 that Sheikh Mohammed organised the kidnapping of his children there was silence from the UK government and the racing regulators British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
It remains to be seen how damaging the sanctions against the Putin and his oligarchy network will be. The sanctions could prove bathetic if those targeted are able to use their secretive connections (off shore) to avoid financial disaster.
I am sure the oligarchy network have already channeled some of their capital to regions such as the Middle East where Russia has strong political and economic ties to the likes of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Israel.
e.g. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, owes Putin big time for standing by him in the aftermath of the West’s condemnation of his government’s killing of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
So the Saudis will have no issue in supporting Putin Inc in its hour of economic need and the Western government have no clout stop them.
Roman and Vladimir: Political Brothers?
Since the news broke that Abramovich was out of Chelsea F.C. some football observers and Blues fans have praised him for the influence he has had on the English Premier League.
Some Chelsea F.C. fans have tried to downplay Abramovich’s close to ties Putin.
Do they relly think Putin would have trusted the Chelsea owner with the organisation and financial investments of the 2018 men’s football World Cup?
In 2007 Putin blocked Abramovich attempts to resign as governor of the autonomous eastern Russian region known as Chukotka. Meaning Putin was Roman’s political boss even when he purchased Chelsea in 2003.
If Abramovich had publicly condemned Putin’s latest criminal actions in Ukraine then he would have had a chance to keep his UK assets intact including Chelsea. But once again Abramovich shied away from ever denouncing Putin, unlike some other oligarchs who have long been critical of Putin’s regime but paid dearly for their stance.
- Mikhail Khodorkovsky spent 9 years in prison for slamming the corruption of Putin’s government.
- Boris Abramovich Berezovsky, a critic of Putin since 2000, was found dead at his England home in 2013. The coroner ruled an open verdict on his death.
If the UK authorities are serious at preventing similar investments similar to the oligarchs then there is a need for a public inquiry into how the Russian wealth was allowed to flood the market in the first place.
- Were UK civils servants prevented by ministers from going after the oligarchs laundering of their wealth?
- What tax exemptions were any of these oligarchs given for logging their billions in the UK?
- How many former ministers went on the payroll to the oligarch network?
However, given the receptive behaviour by various administrations toward the oligarch’s since 2000 I cannot see any desire by the Boris Johnson administration to pursue this issue in the serious manner it warrants.
Russian Communism Fueled by Western Capitalism
Since the advent of Thatcherite economic principles in the 1980s the UK financial sector has prided itself on being the epicenter of bureaucratic-lite free market activities.
That kind of shameless greed allowed a lot of money to be parked (& profited) in the UK by international investors from autocratic nations; with the Communist KGB’s Putin being once of its biggest winners.
Money, power and subservience. How Russia will deliver in 2018 – Paul Hayward
Vladimir Putin tells Roman Abramovich to pay for World Cup 2018 – Tom Parfitt
Russia-Ukraine war: Jeremy Corbyn was right all along about Putin and his oligarchs – Peter Oborne
Door after door in Britain has been opened for Evgeny Lebedev, all the way to a seat in the House of Lords. Who has opened the doors, and why? – The Slow Newscast