World

To hurt Putin, go for oil and gas – not Swift

26 February 2022

12:41 AM

26 February 2022

12:41 AM

Both the British and the Americans have been explicit that it is the Europeans who are blocking Russia being cut from Swift. Removing Russia would be a sound step, but it is far less important than a western agreement not to buy Russian oil and gas would be. Sadly, though, there is little chance of this happening — too many countries are dependent on Russian gas — which means $700 million a day will continue to flow into Moscow, strengthening the Kremlin’s belief that it can ride out whatever sanctions are imposed on it.

Depressing as this may be, there are things the UK can do using domestic law that would inflict pain on the Putin circle. As I say in the Times today, one of those would be the far greater use of unexplained wealth orders: possible the strongest anti-corruption tool the UK has. Essentially, they reverse the burden of proof, requiring people to show that their money has been gained legitimately. The UK could hit every Putin ally living in London with one of these. This would see their property seized if they could not show how they came by their fortune.

As one former minister puts it, it would be ‘iconic’ to see friends of Putin having to hand over the trophy assets they have purchased. At the very least it would have the effect of making many of the Russian ruling class wonder whether their interests are best served by letting Putin continue on his path of confrontation with the West.

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