Western leaders are talking tough (albeit in very general terms) in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But what they are actually prepared to do is another matter. And here, the biggest obstacle may not be Barack Obama. Over the years, Great Britain–and especially British banks–have developed close ties with Russia’s oligarchs. Russians have largely replaced Arabs as the richest denizens of London.
So it wasn’t too surprising when a photographer snapped a photograph of a document being carried openly by a British official on his way to a national security meeting. The Guardian explains:
Britain is drawing up plans to ensure that any EU action against Russia over Ukraine will exempt the City of London, according to a secret government document photographed in Downing Street. …
[A] government document drawn up for a meeting of senior ministers said that “London’s financial centre” should not be closed to Russians. …
The document said Britain should:
• “Not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians.”
• Be prepared to join other EU countries in imposing “visa restrictions/travel bans” on Russian officials.
• “Discourage any discussions (eg at Nato) of contingency military preparations.”
• Embark on “contingency EU work on providing Ukraine with alternative gas [supplies] if Russia cuts them off”.
• Specific threats to Russia should be “contingent and used for private messaging” while public statements should “stick to generic” point.
• Draw up a technical assistance package for Ukraine “ideally jointly with Germany”.
• Pursue the “deployment of OSCE and/or UN (but not EU) monitors in Crimea and eastern Ukraine”.
• Push the “UN secretary general Ban to take the lead in calling and creating a forum for engaging Russia on Ukraine”.
• Accept an emergency summit of EU leaders to discuss Ukraine. This will now be held in Brussels on Thursday.
Apart from the Brits’ specific concern about their financial sector is the fact that much of western Europe is dependent on Russia for natural gas. Overall, Russia supplies 30% of European natural gas imports. Of course, it is equally true–more true, in fact–that Russia depends on Europe as its principal gas export market, and Russia relies heavily on gas and oil for revenue.
It remains to be seen whether the U.K. and other EU countries will be willing to do much of substance to punish Putin’s adventurism. He, obviously, is gambling that they won’t.