Britain Considers Life Without Its Russian Oligarchs

Roman Abramovich, Britain’s best known Russian oligarch

.. Since he bought Chelsea—a purchase that made him a household name—Abramovich, more than any other Russian billionaire, has personified to the British public what oligarchs do and are. They buy soccer teams. They buy art. They get divorced. They are absentee governors of remote parts of Siberia. Their fortunes rise and fall according to their relationships with Vladimir Putin.

..  If the U.K. has decided it is no longer willing to take Abramovich’s money or—at the very least—to help him transform it from one asset class into another, this is quite a departure.

.. passengers on the flight were subjected to the kind of bureaucratic oddities that I have sometimes come across when reporting in Eastern Europe.

.. According to anti-money-laundering campaigners, in the last two decades around a hundred billion pounds of Russian money have come through London and been reinvested in property, commodities, and financial instruments

.. Between 2008 and 2015, the British government granted so-called investor visas to some seven hundred Russian citizens, who were each willing to spend two million pounds in the country.

.. During the same period, Russian oligarchs and Kremlin-connected businesses hired some of London’s finest bankers and lawyers to protect them from the closing circles of international sanctions and financial regulations.

.. On March 16th, two days after May expelled the diplomats, Russia raised four billion dollars from sovereign-debt sales on London’s bond markets.

.. The previous day, the Russian oil giant Gazprom had raised seven hundred and fifty million euros in bond sales in the city. “Business as usual?” the Russian Embassy tweeted.

.. On June 14th, the soccer World Cup kicks off in Moscow.

.. An estimated thirty thousand England fans will travel to the country to watch the national team play

 

Trump loves a strongman, so of course he fawns over Hungary’s Viktor Orban

How Washington pivoted from finger-wagging to appeasement.

Two important American visitors showed up in Budapest on Wednesday. One was Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House adviser who is an admirer of Hungary’s strongman, Viktor Orban; he addressed a conference on “Europe’s Future ” organized by Mária Schmidt, an Orban counselor with Bannon-esque ideas about maintaining a Christian culture in Europe. Bannon had called Orban “a man of principles” as well as “a real patriot and a real hero” earlier this year.
..  Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs A. Wess Mitchell, the highest-ranking American official responsible for U.S. relations with Hungary. Mitchell came to usher in a new era of accommodation between the Trump administration and the Orban government.
.. this administration believes that offering high-level contacts and withholding criticism will improve an authoritarian regime’s behavior. For those who know Hungary’s politics, this is appeasement — the victory of hope over centuries of experience.
.. Orban’s odyssey began in 1998 when, during his first term as prime minister, he started to flirt with nationalistic, anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments to try to win reelection in 2002.
.. When Istvan Csurka, the head of an anti-Semitic party, blamed the United States for the 9/11 attacks (it got what it deserved, he said), the premier declined to dissociate himself from Csurka, despite a White House request to do so.
.. He has since managed to change the Hungarian constitution five times to reduce judicial independence, restrict press freedoms and modify the electoral system to ensure that no viable opposition could ever form against him and his coalition.
.. he still embraces anti-Semitism as a political tool, praising a Nazi-allied wartime leader of Hungary and using stereotypes to cast Jewish emigre George Soros as an outside puppeteer... the pro-government weekly Figyelo recently issued an enemies list of about 200 prominent opposition individuals. Most were local civil society advocates

.. Two Hungarian newspapers, Magyar Nemzet and Budapest Beacon , shut down this spring as advertisers vanished because of their opposition to the Hungarian government, leaving only one print opposition daily.

.. on May 15, when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, received Jeno Megyesy, Orban’s chief adviser on the United States. (Megyesy was also the official point of contact for then-Trump aide Carter Page’s meetings in Budapest during the campaign.

.. Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; although Szijjarto has visited Washington an eye-popping seven times in the past 18 months

.. What, if anything, is the United States getting from Hungary for this appeasement? The $12 billion Russian-financed and secretly signed Russian Paks II nuclear plant in southern Hungary is one reflection of Orban’s Russian orientation.

.. Hungary spends only 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest levels for NATO members, despite Trump’s insistence that nations step up their payments.

.. the policy of appeasement signifies abandonment

.. But the hour is late. Orban’s vision has gained considerable appeal throughout Europe.

.. In 2014, when he declared the end of the age of liberalism, he was seen as a pariah; today he is the leader of a xenophobic, authoritarian and often anti-American trend that haunts Poland, Austria and Turkey.

..  His hostility to migration, particularly what he calls the “Islamic multitude” that “leads to the disintegration of nations,” is widely shared.

.. He is admired for having built the first wall in Europe — on the Hungarian-Serbian border — to stem the flow of migrants in 2015. (Paradoxically, Hungary used to be admired for tearing down the barrier between itself and Austria, precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall.)

Exiting the Iran deal is a blow to financial transparency and US control

the West’s dominance of global finance has meant that the US effectively controls conduits which are the lifeblood of non-Western powers like Russia and China as well. Russia, itself bitterly subject to American sanctions, hopes to escape the noose by deploying a blockchain-based parallel infrastructure for international transactions. Whether such an enterprise will prove laughable and quixotic, or whether it might pierce meaningful holes in the US-dominated conventional system, depends a great deal on how policymakers, bankers, and entrepreneurs around the world react to it.

.. However, now, specifically with respect to its enforcement of financial sanctions on an apparently compliant Iran, it is the United States that seems, even among its Western partners, to be the rogue state in need of policing. However begrudging European acquiescence to extraterritorial US sanctions may have been two days ago, it is more begrudging today.

.. More than that, the remaining counterparties of the Iran nuclear deal — China, France, Russia, the UK, and the EU — all want the deal to continue. They will be at pains to persuade Iran that it continues to enjoy significant sanctions relief relative to what it would face if it abandoned the deal. Which puts those countries between a rock and the hard-place of extraterritorial enforcement by the US of reimposed prohibitions. At a policy level, the remaining signatories now have an active interest in enabling, even encouraging, evasion of US financial controls, an interest that is morally and politically defensible. All of a sudden La Resistance among sullen French bankers isn’t just about the juicy fees foregone, but a heroic struggle to #resist Donald Trump, to prevent the renuclearization of Iran. And policymakers might agree.

.. That might mean taking some of the pressure off of European and vacation isle tax havens, reversing the recent, American-enforced trend towards transparency. It might mean partnering with China and Russia to participate in the parallel, alternative financial arrangements that those countries seek to develop. It plainly puts at risk the hard won, absolutely extraordinary, hegemony that American regulators have over global finance.

.. And for those among the US #resistance who see Vladimir Putin beneath every strand of orange hair, what Donald Trump has just done makes the possibility of a new Russian SWIFT considerably less laughable.

The Stormy Daniels payment isn’t the story. Michael Cohen is.

the more compelling and consequential issue is the Trump-Cohen relationship.

.. given Trump’s odd account that he repaid Cohen for his services “sometimes” and not others, he may well argue that he did not, in the first instance, recognize an obligation for the Daniels payment

.. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, said earlier this month that Trump’s “reimbursement” was in the neighborhood of $470,000, considerably more than three times the sum paid to Daniels.

.. It is far less threatening than questions of bribery, extortion, mail or wire fraud, or direct or indirect indebtedness to a foreign power.