UK government is slow in implementing sanctions, but now it must confiscate assets so that all Russian palaces can be sold, the proceeds can be sent to Ukraine's reconstruction - UK parliamentarian
Chris Bryant, member of the UK Parliament from the Labor Party, former Minister for European Affairs, defends the position against Russian oligarchs and for sending all Russian diplomats back to Moscow. In an interview with Anton Borkovskyi, host of the Studio Zahid program on Espreso TV, he said that he is ashamed of the UK government and how the economy of Russia needs to be destroyed
I welcome you, dear Mr. Bryant, to the Espresso TV studio. I would like to thank Great Britain and you personally for the support and assistance you have been providing to Ukraine. Still we see that Russian aggression is not abating and there is no end in sight. We are hoping for some additional scenarios, possibly additional mechanisms of sanctions that could be implemented against Russia in the near future.
First of all, despite what Vladimir Putin has done both to the Russian people and to the people of Ukraine, he guaranteed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in Budapest protocols and has broken his word. It is really important that all the European countries and members of NATO who signed up to the Budapest Accord should stand by Ukraine today. Whoever the government is in the United Kingdom, being it Labor or Conservative.
I have been very critical of the British government and other governments since 2014, because the invasion of Ukraine happened back then, and not this year. And had we taken that invasion more seriously and imposed stricter sanctions at that time, perhaps Putin would not have been emboldened in a way that he has been. The other thing is that we have not yet put sufficient sanctions in place against Russia. The sanctions against Russia do not yet equal the sanctions against Iran, and I would argue that they should be even stronger. And too many countries still rely on Russian gas and oil. Some countries like India are taking advantage of the situation to cheap gas and oil, and that has to end, because we cannot put up with such a piracy or gangsterism.
We expected at some point that the Russian economy would simply collapse. But it did not, and the war against Ukraine still continues. We really hope that there are certain buttons that the world community, the EU, the US and the UK can push.
One of the difficulties is that the prices for gas and oil have increased. Since Russia is effectively using the Russian word monogorod (rus. моногород), with only one industry which is petricarbons, which means that the Russian sole industry has prospered. There are lots of things we can do to crack down further on Russia. First, we have to extend the sanctions regime to affect more individuals. Secondly, we have to make sure that the whole of Europe is able to survive without Russian gas or oil by this winter, because that would mean we would stop paying money into their coffers. And thirdly, a lot of the Russian military machinery being used at the moment in Ukraine needs replacement parts, many of which are produced by European or Western countries. We need to make sure that those are no longer being provided, so that the military advances that Putin is making at the moment cannot continue
An extremely important point is about people who served or are serving the Kremlin in the West, we are talking about Putin's oligarchs who used to feel extremely comfortable in the European Union and, probably, in Great Britain as well. What is happening to them now?
The UK has very bad records on this. Over the twelve years in particular we have invited rich Russians, oligarchs who made fortunes at the time when lots of state monopolies were auctioned off, sold, privatized, remained as monopolies but went into private hands. So lots of people made lots of money in a very short period of time, in many cases corruptly, by bribing Russian government officials, on occasion Putin’s own personal friends and allies. Many of them are close to the Kremlin, they could not have made the money in the first place, nor could they have kept it without maintaining the trust and confidentiality of Vladimir Putin.
But we welcomed them into the United Kingdom and gave them special visas. We provided services for them to buy houses and have extensive mansions. We gave them very imaginative solutions to their tax issues as well as provided them with lawyers. All of which means that the UK is often known as Londongrad, as we so much wanted Russian money, stolen from the Russian people, that we never asked any questions about how that money got into those pockets. I think we are regretting that today. One of the disturbing facts is that ten people who were given golden visas to come to the United Kingdom are now on the sanctions list. So we welcomed bad people into the UK without asking any questions, it is immoral. I know many people in Ukraine are very grateful to Boris Johnson, but it was his government that was doing this. I hope that there will be significant changes in the UK in the years to come to make sure that we always tackle dirty laundried money.
Yes, and this is of tremendous importance. It cannot get our heads around the real situation with the introduction of powerful sanctions against Russian oligarchs. At first we heard that all their funds would be frozen, assets would be seized, and then it turns out that there is one or another character being able to function normally. And there is a fear that such people will use their golden cards to establish contacts between different business environments of Russia, the UK, the EU, etc.
The situation about most oligarchs in the UK is that they are under a sanction regime, being not able to access finance easily, but the UK government was so slow in sanctioning them that quite a few put their money in other places, which is more difficult for the government to access. So I am very critical of the UK government for not having a proper sanctions policy in place over the last two years. And that meant that we acted far too slowly. The other thing that the government is going to have to do is not just freeze assets, but sieze them, so that the massive estates in the UK can be sold and that money can then go to the reconstruction of Ukraine.
Criticizing Boris Johnson in Ukraine, as he is extremely popular here, is like criticizing Robin Hood or Mowgli. That is, Boris Johnson really did invaluable things to support our country, but now there is a feeling that a new phase of assistance to Ukraine may begin in Great Britain, and what will it be?
I am very critical of Boris Johnson, because I think he is a terrible liar, but that is about British politics, and not about Ukrainian one. I also think that when he was a foreign secretary he was far too weak in relation to Russia. His opposite number Lavrov, who is a terrible scandal of a man, played games with Boris, and he couldn’t even see what was happening.
But look, the UK stands very firmly with Ukraine. I wish we were members of the European Union, because we would then be able to help even more. I am a member of a foreign affairs committee. We came to Ukraine in February, just before the new invasion and visited Kramatorsk. I have been to the railway station which was bombed by the Russian troops. I have been to what was then the frontline watching Russian troops. I know what we need to do. And whoever the government is in the United Kingdom, it will not change Britain's support for Ukraine. I can assure you.
Talking about military aid to Ukraine, how much can it grow? We have enormous problems, in particular we are talking about heavy artillery, there is simply not enough of it. We also lack tanks and armored vehicles, as well as many other systems. We understand that it is embarrassing to ask all the time or talk about it in one or another conversation, but this is a sad reality of ours. On the other hand, we understand that Great Britain in general provides a lot of help, particularly, the ongoing training of our soldiers - this is an extremely powerful program, but what else will the UK be willing to give us?
The UK has to have a proper industrial strategy to replace the equipment that has already been handed over and to increase the level of equipment we are able to provide you with. It would make far more sense if that was done on a whole European basis. As I understand, at the moment we provide 43 different types of equipment or tanks, 43 different systems, and Ukrainian have to learn how to use all of them. It would make much more sense if we could coordinate this effort. I think it would mean that we’d be able to sustain it over a longer period of time and therefore provide better support. Unfortunately, the British government now does not seem to be keen on that kind of coordination.
Having clear focal points and a vision of a distinct, joint, cohesive strategy may actually be the only adequate response to Russian aggression. For example, in the middle of the 19th century, Great Britain and France gave a clear answer to Russia during the Crimean War, when they protected the interests of Turkey, which could be completely destroyed or collapsed as a result of Russian actions. And shortly after losing the Crimean War, Tsar Nicholas died of grief.
I don’t think that Britain is going to be sending troops to fight in Ukraine. If we were to escalate the war, that would mean that Putin might well use his nuclear weapons over that matter or invade another NATO country, such as Estonia.
The most important thing is to be able to give Ukrainian troops and Ukrainian people the tools to defeat Putin with.
What I want for the whole of Europe and the West is to have a single, united, coordinated and consistent campaign of providing military hardware to the troops in Ukraine, as well as financial support to needy families. I am conscious that there are many people who run businesses in Ukraine, who simply will not be able to get on with everything in their life. And I also know Ukrainians who are here in the UK, having left their families in Ukraine. We need to be in this for a long run. I do not think this is going to be over by Christmas, it will continue for some considerable time, and that requires a long-term commitment. That is why, it is important that certainly in the UK it is not a question of whether it is Labors or Conservators or what the name of a Prime Minister is, the commitment is there for the whole of the United Kingdom.
Recently, the idea of a possible security union, in particular with Ukraine, was voiced, and I would like to ask you if you see the prospects of creating such a separate agreement that would include additional security support and guarantees from Great Britain?
Budapest Memorandum theoretically meant that all the parties to it would guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine. You would think that it would mean that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the other countries would stand with Ukrainians and fight with them. It is clearly not what anybody intended at that time, and it certainly is not how it is played out. To be honest, trying to devise a new security agreement now, whilst you are still engaged in the war with Russia is beside the point, which is that we have to make sure that Putin does not win.
What is your feeling on how long Putin will keep going? You mentioned that perhaps the war will not end before Christmas, but the question is how much military and morale-psychological potential does his army still possess?
It is very difficult to judge what is going on inside Putin’s brain or inside the Kremlin.
In a sense this all started with Georgia a long time ago, and the West was too reluctant to act back then, which emboldened Putin. The only thing that he understands is strength. If you look into the history books about the battle of Stalingrad, there is an element of Putin which is like Stalin who simply said, ‘If one general is not prepared to lose hundreds of thousands of his troops to win the battle, give me another general’.
This must be slowly wearing down morale in Russia, but in the end, the only way we will achieve victory is if Putin is no longer in place. And I do not know how we can achieve that.
Why I was asking you about the next round of sanctions for the Kremlin, because they keep threatening the world with the possible use of their tactical nuclear weapons.
Putin loves threatening. I do not believe any of his talk about using supposedly tactical nuclear weapons. I am not sure there really is such a thing as a tactical nuclear weapon, there is just an immoral use of weaponry. If he were to use nuclear weapon on Estonia, Latvia, or Poland that would be an absolute immoral case, leading to a rapid change in public opinion in Russia which Putin himself will find difficult to survive.
The biggest difficulty is that we in the West find it very hard to understand exactly what is going on in Putin’s mind, and he is the best protected asset probably in the world. What that requires of the West is that we all stand closely united. To my mind, we should all be exercising the same sanctions at the same time with the same effect. The way countries like Hungary behave is simply disgraceful. I have met Americans who think that Putin is doing a good thing. We have to fight cyberwar as well. Having talked to people in Ukraine, I learnt that Russia was waging ideological war in social media even before the invasion, trying to convince people that they needed Russian passports, and that they would be better off under Russian protection. So we need to fight all of these battles at the same time and recognize that Putin is not only in a physical war with Ukraine, but is also engaged in a mixed war with the rest of the West.
Dear Mr. Bryant, how do you assess the grain deal that seems to have started working? What does this signal actually mean? We see how actively and strongly the President of Turkey Erdogan was involved in those negotiation processes, and even visited Putin in Russia afterwards. In your opinion, what role will he play, and generally, do you see any prospects for negotiation tracks?
I really worry about Erdogan’s behavior. He is a nationalist, in many ways similar in his nationalism ideology to Putin’s. He leads the country which always has to look both West and East at the same time, as it is the hinge between Europe and Asia.
There is a set of world leaders, many of whom are very dangerous, because they promise to their own country - to make America great again or make Brazil great again, etc. The danger is that we end up in a world of conflict and despair. I think we need to reenforce with Erdogan that his best future lies with the West and not with Iran and Russia.
The time for our interview is up. My sincere gratitude, dear Mr. Bryant, for this honest conversation on Espresso TV channel.