Finance

Here’s how to really hurt Putin’s kleptocracy

Which is not to say it is not worth doing anyway. Rishi Sunak should, meanwhile, rethink his reluctance to evict Russia from the Swift global payments system.

A ban would make it much harder for financial institutions to send money in or out of the country. Russian companies and their customers would be affected. Experts say it would trigger huge capital outflows.

When Iranian banks were unplugged from Swift 10 years ago, the impact was massive. Oil exports nosedived and ultimately the regime was forced to restart negotiations over its nuclear programme.

Major Russian corporations should be targeted with force too. London has long been the favored international financial center for many of Russia’s biggest companies, and the City has done itself a great disservice with the unquestioning manner in which it has repeatedly unfurled the red carpet.

Cutting off their access to international capital should be the first move, implemented without hesitation to show Putin that Britain means business.

The shares of 31 Russian companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange with a combined market cap nearing half a trillion pounds.

Many are state-backed, such as energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom, and major banks VTB and Sberbank, and therefore of huge economic and strategic significance to the Kremlin with annual tax receipts stretching into the tens of billions of pounds.

At its vast scale as a financial centre, the damage to the Square Mile would be negligible.

On the contrary, cleaning up London would improve its standing on the international stage. Apart from those who are the target of sanctions, the only people who really have reason to fear a clampdown are the ghoulish lawyers, advisers, and low-grade public relations outfits that have made a fortune shamelessly lobbying on behalf of Russian interests.

That leaves the oligarchs who have been allowed to gratiate themselves into British society, snapping up multimillion-pound properties across London, sending their children to the best schools, and in many cases rubbing shoulders with the political classes.

Their names are not a secret. Indeed, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran used the cover of parliamentary privilege to name 35 people that imprisoned Russian opposition politician and activist Alexei Navalny believes should have their assets frozen over their alleged close ties to the Kremlin.

They include Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, who has forged business links with Everton. And new laws mean greater powers to go after targets. But most of all it requires political will, something that for years has sadly been lacking.

Yet, for any of these measures to be effective, what is most required is for the West to be united.

That in turn means Britain cannot be a laggard anymore. Without international coordination and cooperation, Putin and his kleptocrats will find ways to easily circumvent the rules, so that he can continue his crackpot quest to rebuild the Russian empire.

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