In what will come as a surprise to nobody except our bumbling prime minister, Johnson’s government has, yet again, surrounded itself in controversy.
This week, it’s the cushy relationship our government’s enjoyed with Russia’s elite circles of mega-rich, mega-dodgy oligarchs. And as the general public has voiced their anger through protests and Instagram stories, Labour has taken aim at the Tories’ various failings, including the snail-like pace with which they’ve proposed policies designed to restrict Russian oligarch’s business dealings.
You know it’s bad when Keir Stammer finally stumbles off the fence and takes a side.
Quite rightly, Johnson is facing accusations that he hasn’t been strict enough on Russia. As other countries scramble to find more and more aggressive ways of showing two fingers to Putin, the country that so proudly originated the sign has been shamelessly nonchalant in sanctions. While the pace is starting to pick up, it feels like Johnson is watching other leaders tiptoe out onto the ice to see if it will hold before he commits himself fully. Russia is by no means an economic lightweight, and our reliance on Russian energy supplies only raises the stakes of such aggressive action, but I’m not advocating for implementing as many sanctions as we can creatively imagine, as quickly as we can possibly do so without hesitation or a moment to think twice. These sanctions will most likely hit the UK economy pretty hard, but Johnson’s hesitancy to act sends a clear message to the millions of suffering Ukrainians: we want to help, but we don’t want to get our hands dirty. It’s utterly atrocious.
But it’s also utterly unsurprising. The UK has long held greasy ties to Russia’s more dubious dealings. There are claims that after a tightening up on immigration requirements, Russian oligarchs were able to obtain “golden visas” by investing in British companies. Now they live comfortably in Belgravian mansions, and we live in their pockets.
There are even claims that Johnson himself ensured a Russian businessman received a peerage, despite concerns over security. But once again, Johnson has pulled his classic hands-in-the-air-and-feign-childish-ignorance move. In the midst of this tribulation he could at least own up to some of his past acts, but I won’t even bother asking if that’s too much to ask.
Is it, then, much of a surprise that the UK is lagging embarrassingly behind other countries when it comes to sanctions on Russia? For far too long, we’ve been complicit in financially aiding Russia: supporting their football teams, using their oil. In the battle against climate change, consumers are urged to shop local, stop buying fast fashion, and support sustainable companies. But our reliance on Russia is too deeply ingrained within the system. It’s harder to choose where our oil is pumped from, who’s investing in companies that we have indirect dealings with.
I mentioned the public rallying through Instagram stories. Social media activism is a controversial subject, with many snidely remarking that it doesn’t make a difference, after all, Boris and Putin aren’t going to see them. To that I say: congratulations, Sherlock, that’s quite a shocking discovery. But through social media we can start conversations, get things trending; force people to ask difficult questions to people in power. Because what the sanction problem has shown us, is that, at the end of the day, there are some things we can’t solve as individuals. When the power isn’t in our hands we’ve got to clamour and make some noise: the walls of Westminster and those Belgravian mansions are thick, and the wads of cash acting as insulation don’t help.
Image courtesy of EUobserver