Widespread condemnation of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine was quickly followed by unprecedented economic sanctions.
As foreign investors and businesses rushed to sell off assets, close offices and cut ties with clients in Russia, an uneasy realisation dawned. Something known in the anti-corruption community for decades: the wealth and business interests of hundreds of oligarchs closely aligned to the Putin regime is fully embedded in the world’s financial centres.
Wealthy Russians have, over the past 20 years or more, listed their companies on stock exchanges, bought lavish properties, invested in trophy-winning football clubs and so on.
It wasn’t a secret. Oligarchs had been laundering their illicit wealth in plain sight. Worse still, governments time and again had stood idly by and let it happen. ‘Sanction the oligarchs!’ was the rallying cry of Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, for more than a decade.
The Ukraine crisis has attracted a sharp focus on the extent to which ‘dirty’ Russian money pervades the world’s financial centres. Now, after many years of delaying, countries are rushing to boost transparency mechanisms that will help crack down on this illicit wealth.
The UK rapidly re-introduced its shelved Economic Crime Bill in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The legislation, which received royal assent on 14 March, will establish a new register listing the ultimate owners of property or land in the UK that have been purchased by overseas entities.
Given how much UK property is linked to Russian corruption – Transparency International estimates around £1.5bn has been spent in the UK by Russians with alleged connections to the Kremlin since 2016 – the register has been welcomed as a step-change in the UK’s approach to tackling illicit financial flows (IFFs) from Russia and elsewhere.
It was a moment few will forget. After weeks of escalating tensions, Russian forces finally crossed Ukraine’s borders in the early hours of 24 February.
Days earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was recognising the rebel-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states. Until then, a full-scale invasion had seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, Europe was faced with its largest conflict since the Second World War.
Russia’s incursion and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014 was still fresh in everyone’s minds. The threat of further Russian aggression had been building for months as hundreds of thousands of troops lined Ukraine’s borders.
Despite weeks of escalating tensions, the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces in the early hours of 24th February shocked the world. Just days earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he was recognising the rebel-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states. Up to that point, a full-scale invasion had seemed almost inconceivable, but suddenly Europe was faced with its largest conflict since the Second World War.
In this Global Insight podcast, we look at the background to the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s hybrid warfare campaign and the role of sanctions in fighting aggression and autocracy.
Examining these issues are:
Olga Lautman, an expert in Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe and a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Bill Browder is CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and a long-time supporter of stronger sanctions against Russia.
Daria Kaleniuk, executive director and co-founded of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre in Kyiv (AntAC).
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