British Ambassador to Ukraine: Russia may face visa bans and assets freeze

  • 2014-03-10
  • From wire reports, RIGA

The EU is prepared to take further measures if there is no positive action to de-escalate the conflict in Crimea on the part of Russian Federation, said Simon Smith, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Great Britain to Ukraine, during a press briefing at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

“There is still an opportunity to commit to diplomatic actions and resolve the conflict through a dialogue. We are looking for immediate actions that would de-escalate the situation in Crimea and bring it back into the legal framework. The EU has clearly stated that Russia will face further serious consequences, and this is the matter of days, not weeks,” said Smith.
Smith noted that the referendum in Crimea is full of legal “unsoundness” and it is bringing further destabilization to the situation.
The Ambassador has ensured that Ukrainian issues are right at the top of the British government’s political agenda. “The EU is ready to give not just political, but also financial, technical and budgetary support to Ukraine. This is a chance for Ukraine to build a strong, successful, unified country and we will continue to pitch in with our help,” Smith added.

These are, of course, tough sounding and welcome words.

But they certainly portray a different version than what The New York Times’ opinion writer Ben Judah wrote last week: “London - The city has changed. The buses are still dirty, the people are still passive-aggressive, but something about London has changed. You can see signs of it everywhere. The townhouses in the capital’s poshest districts are empty; they have been sold to Russian oligarchs and Qatari princes.

“England’s establishment is not what it was; the old imperial elite has become crude and mercenary. On Monday (March 3), a British civil servant was photographedarriving in Downing Street for a national security council meeting with an open document in his hand. We could read for ourselves lines from a confidential report on how Prime Minister David Cameron’s government should respond to the Crimea crisis. It recommended that Britain should ‘not support, for now, trade sanctions,’ nor should it ‘close London’s financial center to the Russians.’

“It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.

“Britain, open for business, no longer has a ‘mission.’ Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.

“The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.

In a not very complimentary assessment, Judah continues: “Britain’s bright young things now become consultants, art dealers, private banker and hedge funders. Or, to put it another way, the oligarchs’ valets.

“Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, gets it: you pay them, you own them. Mr. Putin was absolutely certain that Britain’s managers — shuttling through the revolving door between cabinet posts and financial boards — would never give up their fees and commissions from the oligarchs’ billions. He was right.

“In the austerity years of zero growth that followed the 2008 financial crash, this new source of vast wealth could not be resisted. Tony Blair is the latter-day embodiment of pirate Britain’s Sir Walter Raleigh. The former prime minister now advisesthe Kazakh ruler Nursultan Nazarbayev on his image in the West. Mr. Blair is handsomely paid to tutor his patron on how to be evasive about the crackdowns and the mine shootings that are facts of life in Kazakhstan.

“This is Britain’s growth business today: laundering oligarchs’dirty billions, laundering their dirty reputations.

Judah recommends tougher policy – “It could be otherwise. Banking sanctions could turn off the financial pipelines through which corrupt officials channel Russian money. Visa restrictions could cut Kremlin ministers off from their mansions. The tax havens that rob the national budget of billions could be forced to be accountable. Britain has the power to bankrupt the Putin clique.

The London Shard — the Qatari-owned, 72-floor skyscraper above the grotty Southwark riverside — is a symbol of the new values.

“The Shard encapsulates the new hierarchy of the city. On the top floors, ‘ultra high net worth individuals’ entertain escorts in luxury apartments. By day, on floors below, investment bankers trade incomprehensible derivatives.

“Come nightfall, the elevators are full of African cleaners, paid next to nothing and treated as nonexistent. The acres of glass windows are scrubbed by Polish laborers, who sleep four to a room in bedsit slums. And near the Shard are the immigrants from Lithuania and Romania, who broke their backs on construction sites, but are now destitute and whiling away their hours along the banks of the Thames.

The Shard is London, a symbol of a city where oligarchs are celebrated and migrants are exploited but that pretends to be a multicultural utopia. Here, in their capital city, the English are no longer calling the shots. They are hirelings.

This is a sad reminder of how England has changed, and not for the better.