UK gets tough with pick-up artist but not Putin thugs

Denis MacShane Become a fan
Former Europe Minister
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Cameron Gets Tough With a Pick-Up Artist, But Not Putin’s Put-to-Death Artists
Posted: 27/11/2014 16:39 GMT Updated: 27/11/2014 16:59 GMT
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In a show of strength and leadership British Ministers have taken tough action against someone who is clearly a major threat to British national interests. The government has imposed a ban on entering into Britain of an American called Julien Blanc. But as he gets tough with a fellow citizen of President Obama, David Cameron remains resolutely aligned with President Putin’s view that his fellow citizens should not face similar sanctions to that imposed on Julien Blanc.

Blanc is an absurd sexist self-publicist who describes himself as a ‘pick-up artist.’ Britain is probably better off without his presence but in the same week, MPs of all parties gathered to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killing of a British employed tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. He died in agony on a Moscow prison floor five years after 12 months of being brutally treated by state officials working for President Putin.

The MPs are still waiting for David Cameron to take any action against those named as linked to his death.

Magnitsky was employed by a British firm, Hermitage Capital, to investigate the disappearance of $230 million which Hermitage paid in tax to the Russian equivalent of HMRC. He found the money had been diverted into the accounts of Putin’s tax police who are at the heart of corrupt business-political nexus that enriches politicians and favoured state functionaries.

The young father of two persisted in his demands that the money be accounted for. He was arrested, thrown into prison, and tortured to try and persuade him to drop the case. He refused and was then he was so badly treated he died.

Magnitsky’s employer, Bill Browder, an American born British citizen was so outraged he used his firm’s considerable resources to track down those responsible for his employee’s death and find out where they had bank accounts or assets overseas.

He persuaded the US Congress to pass the “Justice for Magnitsky Act’ which named 40 Russians and banned them from entering America or owning property or shares there. President Obama signed the Act into law. In 2011, the House of Commons after a day-long debate adopted a similar resolution calling on William Hague and Teresa May to ban those linked to the Magnitsky killing from entering the UK or holding assets via the City here.

Unlike President Obama, David Cameron has refused to act on the Commons resolution and implement the travel ban. So while the British government can get really tough with a pick-up artist from America it is as weak as a mouse when it comes to those named in connection with brutal death of a Russian working for a London-based firm.

There has never been any explanation for this pusillanimity. Nor is there any evidence that the departure of William Hague from the Foreign Office will make any difference. The Tory MP who has led the campaign to get UK justice for Magnitsky is the former FCO lawyer, Dominic Raab. His father was a Jewish immigrant from East Europe before the war and Raab has led high profile campaigns on issues like the European Arrest Warrant. He still privately expresses hope that those linked to the Magnitsky death might be banned from entering the UK like Julian Blanc. But Ministers seem adamant they do not want to embarrass Putin who said when he was elected as President of Russia in 2012 a top priority was to protect Russian officials from international sanctions and pressure.

Nevertheless Britain has agreed to EU visa bans and asset freezes on a small number of Russians and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine as part of the campaign to try and get Putin to row back from promoting armed conflicts in east Ukraine. But Britain is a nervous Nellie when it comes to joining with the US and imposing Magnitsky linked travel bans and asset freezes.

This is part of the steady appeasement of Putin that has been a hallmark of Cameron’s Ostpoliitk since 2010. In 2008, as leader of the opposition Cameron flew to Georgia to protest Putin’s invasion by land, sea and air of the small country. Russian has turned the Georgian region of Abkhazia into a military zone with missile and other Russian army bases now permanently installed there.

But on becoming prime minister in 2010 Cameron developed no strategy for dealing with Russia. Poland offered Britain the free use of land and army barracks for British troops leaving Germany as the British military presence in Germany since 1945 was wound down. William Hague and Liam Fox turned down flat Warsaw’s offer. Together with Tory attacks on hard working Polish citizens helping to grow the UK economy the seven-decade long friendship between Poland and Britain (1940-2010) is now cool to the point of being frozen.

Angela Merkel is looking for new ways of making clear to Putin that his militaristic approach to European problems needs to change. Berlin expressed concern about the massive joint Russian-Serbian military exercises held this month in Serbia. Putin was received in Belgrade with a grandiose military parade in best pre-war style. Moscow would like to open a permanent military presence in Belgrade but Berlin had made clear that if Belgrade goes down that road, Serbia’s hopes of an EU future are over.

Each time Mrs Merkel meets Putin for their talks in German or Russian, he promises here he will back a cease-fire in Ukraine and each time he breaks his word. Berlin is also worried about Moldova and Putin’s support for military operations in Transnistria. In Poland and the Baltic States there is real alarm at the non-stop Russian military pressure including military over-flights, cyber-attacks and calibrated destabilisation in Ukraine.

In London, none of these issues seem to matter. Russian money is now essential for the City. Russians make massive donations to Conservative Party funds. And while David Cameron’s ministers can get tough with a pick-up artist from America they will not move against put-to-death artists from Russia if they are backed by Putin.

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