We were warned about Vladimir Putin – about his intentions, his nature, his mindset – and, because it was profitable for us, we ignored those warnings and welcomed his friends and their money. It is too late for us to erase our responsibility for helping Putin build his system. But we can still dismantle it and stop it coming back.
Russia is a mafia state, and its elite exists to enrich itself. Democracy is an existential threat to that theft, which is why Putin has crushed it at home and seeks to undermine it abroad. For decades, London has been the most important place not only for Russia’s criminal elite to launder its money, but also for it to stash its wealth. We have been the Kremlin’s bankers, and provided its elite with the financial skills it lacks. Its kleptocracy could not exist without our assistance. The best time to do something about this was 30 years ago – but the second best time is right now.
We journalists have long been writing about this, but it is not simply overheated rhetoric from overexcited hacks. Parliament’s intelligence and security committee wrote two years ago that our investigative agencies are underfunded, our economy is awash with dirty money, and oligarchs have bought influence at the very top of our society.
The committee heard evidence from senior law enforcement and security officials. It laid out detailed, careful suggestions for what Britain should do to limit the damage Putin has already done to our society. Instead of learning from the report and implementing its proposals, Boris Johnson delayed its publication until after the general election and then, when further delay became impossible, dismissed those who took its sober analysis seriously as “Islingtonian remainers” seeking to delegitimise Brexit.
That is the crucial context for Johnson’s ludicrous claim this week to the House of Commons that no government could “conceivably be doing more to root out corrupt Russian money”. That is not only…