In response to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the USSR, Francis Fukuyama stated famously that it was ‘The End Of History’. This pivotal moment, he believed, would be the beginning of a New World Order, one where the barriers -both physical and diplomatic – would come crashing down and global co-operation would march on hand in hand with the unstoppable force of free-market capitalism.
Many in the West strongly bought into Fukuyama’s idea, predicting a future where western capitals could work closely with Moscow. Evidence of this optimism was shown by the British government’s 1990’s Tier 1 visa scheme, which allowed Russian passport holders to gain access to long-term visas in return for relatively small investments into the country. In 2008, the ‘golden visa’ program was introduced which required a minimum investment of £1 million, leading to an influx of applications from extremely wealthy Russian nationals. This openness to Russian money has come back to haunt the city and the country, earning London the reputation of being a ‘laundromat’ for dirty Russian money.
The recently released (but much delayed) report by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament into allegations of Russian interference into the Brexit referendum is just another glimpse into the Kremlin’s appetite for interfering with the democracies of its ‘enemies’. The report itself fails to come to a clear conclusion on whether or not Moscow successfully interfered in the referendum. Despite this, many media outlets have focused strongly on the Brexit referendum aspect of the report. Regardless of the extent to which the Kremlin succeeded in interfering in the election, there is a more pertinent reality that the report drives home: London’s status as a ‘laundromat’ for Russian Oligarchs and their wealth.
But why does this matter? To appreciate the importance of London’s status as a safe haven for Russian oligarchs, we must remember that these individuals are not truly ‘free’ but connected very tightly to the Kremlin. When called upon by Putin, they become agents of the state, carrying out favours in order to buy influence within the UK. According to the repor,t the ‘dirty money’ has been leveraged in order to buy influence “across a wide sphere of the British establishment – PR firms, charities, political interests, academia, and cultural institutions’’. Thus, the Russian state has created a network of ‘agents’ within the very core of the British establishment via the grip it maintains over its elite nationals living in London. The report goes on to claim that the Kremlin currently considers the UK to be ranked only behind the USA and NATO on its list of enemies. It is therefore evident that this report must be taken more seriously, and a plan must be put into place to deal with London’s addiction to Russia’s ‘dirty money’.
The government is either willfully ignoring this situation due to the capital that flows into the city and into party politics as a result of it or it genuinely has not grasped the severity of what has been going on in London for the last three decades. Remarkably, the oversight has increased since Transparency International labeled the visa process as based entirely on ‘blind faith’ between the years 2008 and 2015. Rachel Davis, head of Transparency International, reaffirms that much more transparency is needed and the changes that have been made were too late as around 3,000 visas were approved between 2008 and 2015 with little to no oversight.
This report is just another reminder that the UK government has continued to turn a blind eye to the role that London plays in protecting the very people who use their wealth to further the aims of a regime that seeks to damage the UK and Europe by any means necessary.