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Friday, March 7, 2014

Britain’s KGB Sugar Daddy -- By Michael Weiss, The Daily Beast

To understand Britain’s cowardice in standing up to Vladimir Putin, just follow the money.

On Monday, a freelancer photographer called Steve Back snapped a photograph of a document being carried cavalierly in the open by British officials entering Downing Street. The document was a list of suggested countermoves by Westminster to play against the Kremlin for Russia’s recent invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Some of the items tracked with what other European and American counterparts were thinking. Let’s not fuel up the NATO jets quite just yet; let’s send a monitoring team from the UN and/or OSCE to Crimea (Robert Serry, a UN envoy was nearly kidnapped earlier this week by armed gunmen in Simferopol); let’s draw up financial and energy contingency plans to help the embryonic new government in Kiev. But one item stuck out above the rest: “Not support, for now, trade sanctions… or close London’s financial centre to Russians.”

Two of Britain’s finer Russia-obsessed journalists, Ben Judah and Oliver Bullough, have dealt admirably with why London has all of a sudden gone wobbly on Putinist aggression in Europe. The flow of Moscow gold to the sceptr’d isle, they argue, has now become so steady, so dependable and so relied-upon that no act of geopolitical thuggery can ever again lead to a Churchillian showdown with the Kremlin.

The Cold War may be over in the Western imagination for a number of reasons, but the triumph of cold hard cash is one of them. Russians have bought nearly five percent of the premium London properties in 2013. They’ve kept the tills full at Harrods during an “austerity” economy. They’ve sent their children to elite boarding schools and Oxbridge colleges, paying full tuition fees. And they’ve shoved their questionably-gotten gains into British tax shelters or financial institutions. In return, the political establishment, be it Labour or Tory, has only asked for more.

 Old, numerous and bipartisan are the tales that corroborate this dreary hypothesis. At meetings with his Russian counterpart, David Cameron is said to politely cough about the ongoing carnage in Syria before getting down to the real business of greater Anglo-Russian trade and energy cooperation. And wasn’t Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, once spotted dining aboard the Corfu-anchored “super-yacht” belonging to Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire Russian aluminum magnate who was allegedly considering ways to donate to the Conservative Party even though donations by foreigners are illegal under British electoral law?  The then-Shadow Chancellor of course denied that any chatter about creative campaign financing ever took place.

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