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London Calling
March 8, 2014 10:23 AM   Subscribe

Britain will betray the United States and Ukraine to keep laundering dirty Russian money. "The city has changed. The buses are still dirty, the people are still passive-aggressive, but something about London has changed. You can see signs of it everywhere. The townhouses in the capital’s poshest districts are empty; they have been sold to Russian oligarchs and Qatari princes."
posted by four panels (67 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
London properties all have tulips in the garden these days.
posted by jaduncan at 10:28 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


England’s establishment is not what it was; the old imperial elite has become crude and mercenary.

What sort of nostalgic nonsense is this? The establishment is exactly as it has always been.
posted by three blind mice at 10:30 AM on March 8 [24 favorites]


And who is it who owns all the condos in New York City?
posted by Peach at 10:30 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Despite all the xenophobic dog whistling, this does eventually become a serious problem when you have a lot of dollars and no sense. Like, for instance, the rotting corpse of billionaire's row where no money has been used for property maintenance and the mansions are literally rotting away and being reclaimed by nature. It's like post apocalyptic but for billionaires.
posted by Talez at 10:31 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


A Russian with a home in London can generally avoid UK tax, while they'll be subject to US tax if they spend too much time in their NYC condo. Hence London being a destination of choice for wealthy foreigners.
posted by jpe at 10:33 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


We also have a council tax ceiling, so big properties have disproportionately low tax costs compared to any equivalent city.
posted by jaduncan at 10:34 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Actually, much of the capital in Russia no longer leaves the country (and if it does it goes to Dubai), the money that is in London is largely owned by the people who made their money just after the fall of the Soviet Union, none of which are particular cozy friends with Putin, nor would it actually be easy or all that effective. See the discussion here.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:37 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.

Has Britain somehow become important again while my attention was elsewhere? I thought America was too big to give a rat's ass what Britain thought or did.
posted by Segundus at 10:41 AM on March 8


They're bringing money in, but all it's doing is hollowing out the centre, causing inflation, and creating neighbourhood 'economies' based on pure Veblen consumption. Also, it means all the people who only want to buy £1 million houses are hollowing out the upper shell of the economies within a 100 radius of London. So the only rich people in London will be foreign and the only rich people in the rest of Southern England will be Londoners.
posted by ambrosen at 10:43 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


British residency is up for sale. “Investor visas” can be purchased, starting at £1 million ($1.6 million).

The US offers a similar Green Cards for Cash program, though not as pricy as Britain's.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:45 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Betray Ukraine? Was Britain committed to any kind of agreement to defend them in the first place? I'm not seeing any indication from the first two articles linked that such is the case. (NoScript is blocking the third.)
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 11:01 AM on March 8


Dear Lord. The issues here are real but the framing is ludicrous. Freedom fries, anyone?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:10 AM on March 8 [12 favorites]


Was Britain committed to any kind of agreement to defend them in the first place?

The Budapest Memorandum of 1994 was signed by the US, USSR, and UK, giving Ukraine security assurances in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.
posted by Segundus at 11:10 AM on March 8 [10 favorites]


Segundus, there's an old joke about a kid interviewing for a job at the US State Department and they ask him what the two most important things in the world are and he blurts, "Love and Anglo-American relations."

Britain looms huge in the American consciousness. I bet way more Americans can name the British Prime Minister than the Canadian one. The American press also gives a lot more coverage to British politics than to any other foreign politics, and British-American visits and meetings get a lot more importance attributed to them. Even when there's no real weight behind Britain's position on some issue (which of course there often is!) the US definitely cares what Britain thinks.

Actually that's a interesting question, I'd be curious to look at some major national papers in different countries and see how they weight their foreign coverage and how closely that matches up with things like trade and immigration exchanges.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:17 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Eyes passim ad nauseam.
posted by Thing at 11:17 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]


the money that is in London is largely owned by the people who made their money just after the fall of the Soviet Union, none of which are particular cozy friends with Putin

Granted that punishing people like that for Crimea specifically is arbitrary, I'm not sure that being cozy friends with whoever let them loot Russia during the shock therapy era makes them any more desirable.

The US offers a similar Green Cards for Cash program, though not as pricy as Britain's.

Interesting. On reflection I guess it's not surprising that UK citizenship sells for a premium over US. The blue passport comes with a lot more worldwide tax liability for jetsetting ultra-rich types.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 11:18 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Was Britain committed to any kind of agreement to defend them in the first place?
The Budapest Memorandum of 1994 was signed by the US, USSR, and UK, giving Ukraine security assurances in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.
This is an extreme oversimplification, and I'd go so far as to say that within the context of answering the question, it's false.

The Budapest Memorandum does not obligate anyone to defend Ukraine in any situation at any time. The closest it comes to that is obligating the US, Russia, and the UK to seek UN Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine if Ukraine is a victim of aggression or threatened aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

Russia is violating the Budapest Memorandum in a number of ways. The US and the UK are not violating it in any way.

It's not a long or complicated document; check it out here.
posted by Flunkie at 11:18 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Don't most countries have investment visas? Canada does, and many South American countries do, I know.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:19 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


... The USSR didn't exist any more in 1994. Sorry to be a pedant.
posted by plep at 11:19 AM on March 8


UK seeking to ensure Russia sanctions do not harm City of London

Its the document that was 'found' that's causing the ruckus. The Guardian piece linked here has snippets from it. The NYT pieces in the FPP are amazingly breathlessly OTT about "being betrayed" like its the Cold War all over again... almost as though there weren't enough terrirists to chase these days.
posted by infini at 11:24 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Oh this is NYT op-ed hack journalism. The appeal of this article is that it's easily plays well with New Yorkers who feel nervous about NYC's claim to No.1 world city status vs LDN. The NYT has a line in anti-London op-eds. Even better as NYC reader bait when the hack writer is a Londoner and the prose is purple and the tone a bit
hysterical as here. That's not to say that the op-eds don't sometimes make important points or that they're always inaccurate through and through. But, jeez, look at the ridiculously melodramatic tone and lazy broad brush posturing of this piece and bear in mind the NYC-LDN rivalry context & NYT reader-chasing
posted by Bwithh at 11:28 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


(Oh, and relative to the other NYT op-eds about London I've thinking of - this is embarrassingly bad, shamefully crude)
posted by Bwithh at 11:31 AM on March 8


It must feel terrible to be the colonized for once.
posted by Nelson at 11:31 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


There's an NYC-LDN rivalry? Are you assholes too stupid to realise you've already won?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:32 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Flunkie, sorry you didn't get in first; maybe next time.

plep, you're quite right, but wouldn't it have been a shame to break the run of places beginning with a 'U'?
posted by Segundus at 11:35 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]




Flunkie, sorry you didn't get in first; maybe next time

Could you explain what you mean by this?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:39 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Surprisingly poorly written op-ed here but the central point is true enough, even if it has been talked about for years now. Here is John le Carre discussing the issue of Russian money and influence in London way back in 2010. The audio interview is embedded near the top of the page on the right.
posted by numberstation at 11:42 AM on March 8


Now I know what to look forward to in CIVILIZATION VI
posted by Renoroc at 11:52 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I'm for much tougher sanctions than seem to be on the agenda currently from anyone, but the tone of the article is ludicrous.

It's like saying Britain betrayed the US by declining to get involved in Vietnam, or the US betrayed Britain over the Suez crisis. Allies don't have to think the same way about everything.

There was an interesting line in David Cameron's press conference yesterday to the effect that if Russia goes any further, EU countries are willing to step up sanctions, despite the pain that would mean for Britain's financial sector, France's defense industries, and Germany's energy supply.
posted by philipy at 12:05 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I think the point MartinWisse is trying to make is that the Russian money that is affecting London is not the same money or Russians as are sitting at Putin's right hand and guiding or benefiting from what's happening in Ukraine. Putting sanctions on the accounts of the Roman Abramovich generation of oligarchs, the ones who are letting Millionaire's Row rot, etc. would if anything help Putin and his cronies, not hurt them.
posted by Fnarf at 12:09 PM on March 8


Its a hack-y op-ed, but I wouldn't throw out the central tenant that Russian money in London is corrupting, like lots of asian/ME money of dubious origin is corrupting in Premiere League football without a framework in place to deal with it.

Also, the issue here is more of a betrayal of a European nature rather than of the US in a cold war context. Allowing Russia to escape consequences for this is not going to have good long term results for Europe, that is the betrayal.

Especially has Putin has a weaker hand than it appears, if the response was coordinated and agreed.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:31 PM on March 8


Beyond money, the Russian government brought radiological weaponry into the UK, poisoned and murdered an emigre, then left behind a radioactive corpse and contaminated a restaurant and hotel in the process. When the UK begged them to extradite a suspect, the Russians laughed. After this act of war, was anyone really expecting the UK's help with stopping Putin from acquiring more lebensraum?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:37 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


... And we've Godwin'd.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:16 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


It is important for people to know that the City of London is not the same as the city named London. One is an undemocratic tax haven money laundering center and the other is a place were people live with the consequences of that.

I am not speaking metaphorically in case that is what you are thinking. 'The City' is not the city. It is actually a separate very strange legal entity.
posted by srboisvert at 1:36 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Putin is directing the state and the people to persecute minorities, while annexing neighbors. I get that the Godwin stuff is an easy joke, but what's been happening the last decade or so is not so funny.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on March 8 [7 favorites]


Its not Godwin to observe the process of a country militarily violating sovereign European borders militarily in order to protect some supposedly endangered ethnic minority, after not being happy with its corruptly maintained proxy government being removed, with a subtext of energy resources as both a prize and a weapon, and others worrying about the consequences of not responding as there are several other spots where one can envision the process repeating itself if this grab proves fruitful.

Its actually happened, as opposed to being proposed as an irresponsible exaggerated possibility
posted by C.A.S. at 1:47 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


You are good and right to observe and decry all of that, but you can do so without tossing around an incendiary shit grenade like lebemsraum, for chrissakes.
posted by ominous_paws at 1:53 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Putin is an autocrat protecting economic assets (pipelines and trade agreements). He's not annexing anything. He's a bad guy but he's not Hitler -- not just "not as bad as Hitler" but not similar to Hitler. The Crimea is not the Sudetenland. The analogy is 75 years out of date; you might as well call him "Napoleon". You'd still be wrong. This is a modern issue for which a different understanding is called for.
posted by Fnarf at 1:54 PM on March 8 [5 favorites]


New York Times beating the War Drum over Ukraine? How Iraqi of them.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:14 PM on March 8


Well, he's put 6000 troops in the Crimea, which is currently not Russia, changed the laws to make incorporating new land into Russia easier, so I don't see how thinking he's intending to "annex" the Crimea is a crazy leap in logic.

Sure looks like annexing or at least creating another version of Georgian and Moldavian carve-offs is exactly what is intended
posted by C.A.S. at 2:22 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


In my street, which is an average terraced street several removes from coveted districts, the ripple effect of property investment in prime areas in Central London has seen a typical three bed terraced house increase in value from £180k to £750k in a 15 year period that includes two downturns.

The London property market is absurd. I missed the boat in 1997 when you could still buy a two bed place for less than £100k in an up and coming area in zone two and chose to spend my savings driving around Australia, a decision that probably cost me the chance of becoming a paper millionaire. Those places now sell for £500k+. I balked at absurd prices in 2005, in the knowledge we were at the peak. I conceded defeat in 2008, and bought a modest home at the top of the then market. Through precisely no good judgment my house has shot up on value.

On the one hand, hooray for paper wealth. On the other, Russian money or not, London's property market is nuts. Nuts. Completely and utterly out of sync with earnings because London bricks are used like gold bars by the global rich.

But no government can afford to make homeowning affordable by taxing prime London properties to encourage real people to live there all the time without devaluing the houses people have already bought. Not gonna happen. Nobody wants to find their compromise two bed flat in zone 3 has fallen 30% in value even if it means better properties are now more within reach.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:15 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I am the last person these days to think of the Russians as the good guys, but this vote re: the Crimea wanting to secede, is there reason to believe that it's not legit? This seems to be the thing that complicates it, for me. I mean, if people can democratically elect their leaders, shouldn't they also be able to democratically decide national affiliation? *Should* we be able to bind our children and our children's children like that? I'm not saying I agree with the decision, but I do think that this is ethically more complicated than just "Russia is invading Ukraine". I say this, too, as someone whose ancestors in part ended up Texans because a bunch of white people moved in and decided they didn't like the rule of law in Mexico (especially with regards to slavery) and figured the US would be more accommodating when independence didn't work out--fully aware how problematic that can be.

Just, at the same time, I look at my dad's family of ethnic Mexicans, where the happenstance of a river meant that some of them are now Americans, with a border in between patrolled by crazy people so that you can't just cross into Nuevo Progreso because you want to, and I feel like what the UK wants and what the USA wants and what Putin wants might matter less than the fact that the Crimea is mostly populated by Russians and borders nearly as much Russia as Ukraine, so... what do they want and what's best for them? Is that a totally crazypants thing to care about?
posted by Sequence at 3:20 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Sequence: It's been pretty well established that local regions don't actually get to decide their national affiliation. Here in the United States the Civil War ended that notion rather dramatically. Other places have done so in ways both similar and not.

I think the whole situation is complicated. The Russians aren't acting in anyone's interest but their own, but neither is anyone else. I'm kinda reminded of what happened in Egypt, actually, where a democratically elected government got tossed out in extremely undemocratic fashion. That government was, itself, also starting to act increasingly undemocratic of course. I'm not sure what the solution is.
posted by Justinian at 3:32 PM on March 8


Not toeing the US line on an issue is betrayal now? Oh please.
posted by pompomtom at 3:51 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Putin is an autocrat protecting economic assets (pipelines and trade agreements). He's not annexing anything. He's a bad guy but he's not Hitler -- not just "not as bad as Hitler" but not similar to Hitler. The Crimea is not the Sudetenland. The analogy is 75 years out of date; you might as well call him "Napoleon". You'd still be wrong. This is a modern issue for which a different understanding is called for.

For all his flaws, to speak the name of Napoleon in the same breath as those two shysters is to damn your tongue. You should sooner call them Pitt or Wellington for all the mismatch of such a comparison.
posted by Thing at 3:54 PM on March 8


Not toeing the US line on an issue is betrayal now?

Has been for a while.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:59 PM on March 8


And yet if they don't get to decide their national affiliation, who gets to decide it for them? I'm not saying the Civil War turned out wrong, but I am saying that I think "we assigned your borders for you, now you have no recourse for the rest of eternity" is also something that is not actually in line with that democracy. I guess I kind of come down on thinking that they probably shouldn't decide it alone, but that at the very least their wishes should be a factor in all this. I just feel very uncomfortable with the notion that the west is championing democracy in ways that do not feel very democratic at all, I guess. This isn't, like, a chess game between Western Europe and Russia where the important thing is who wins and who loses, is my point. There are real people who live there.
posted by Sequence at 4:01 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Sequence: It's been pretty well established that local regions don't actually get to decide their national affiliation.

like kosovo? south sudan? possibly scotland? a bunch of disgruntled colonials in 1776 who betrayed their mother country?

it's really not that established at all
posted by pyramid termite at 4:13 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


There's more money to be made tossing people out of million dollar homes than there is to keep them there. A law of real estate.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:53 PM on March 8


it's really not that established at all

Sure it is. It's been well established that you have exactly as much right to determine your national affiliation as you can enforce militarily... or get others to enforce for you.
posted by Justinian at 5:01 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


How the hell is this about toeing the US line? This isn't about the US at all. That's as myopic as the Fox News idiots who always have to make every international issue about what it says about Obama and mom jeans.

Just because the US government is against it, doesn't mean they are wrong. There will be no country in Europe for it, other than Russia itself. The Baltic countries, Poland, Germany, France, Turkey, who's for it? No one

There isn't a good precedent for this serious a breach of international law, and yes, that is the big problem with the Iraq debacle, is the absolute loss of moral authority of the US and Britain during those years.
posted by C.A.S. at 5:33 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


There isn't a good precedent for this serious a breach of international law

The 'Democratic' Republic of the Congo would like to disagree. Well, not the foreign military/local puppet militia controlled areas, obviously. They seem oddly keen to repeatedly point out it's great to be looked after by external countries and to ask if those great occupying forces can just stop burning people's villages down.

It's unusual in the developed world. That's as far as I'd go.
posted by jaduncan at 5:49 PM on March 8


It's been well established that you have exactly as much right to determine your national affiliation as you can enforce militarily... or get others to enforce for you.

but that's hardly a "legal" establishment - still, you certainly have a point
posted by pyramid termite at 5:55 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Sequence: "I am saying that I think "we assigned your borders for you, now you have no recourse for the rest of eternity" is also something that is not actually in line with that democracy. I guess I kind of come down on thinking that they probably shouldn't decide it alone, but that at the very least their wishes should be a factor in all this."

Sure, but some of the issues here are that a) the USSR deported Crimean natives and flooded it with ethnic Russians specifically to create a situation where the Crimea "wanted" to be part of Russia; and b) Russia has been seeking to turn Ukraine into a client state ever since it became independent and has been attempting to subvert its politicians; and c) it is NOT AT ALL CLEAR that the Crimean parliament speaks for the people in Crimea and not for the armed Russians who landed at the airport or, even if they do express a majority viewpoint in Crimea, that they are a legitimate government, and legitimacy matters, especially in such touchy situations; and d) allowing devolution or secession of regions because of their desire for self-determination is a complicated and messy process that takes a long time and requires a lot of international support; it CAN be done peacefully but attempting to do it super-fast in a period of upheaval seems like it's in bad faith. (I mean, Scotland's been slowly devolving since the 1970s, and the support of the EU for the process has been crucial -- it takes a long time.)

(Also the US/Mexico border is not a great metaphor because while there are a lot of issues of movement of people across the border, the US and Mexico don't particularly dispute where the border itself is. I believe the US and Canada have more border-location disputes.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:22 PM on March 8




I should point out that I'm disagreeing with the "flooded it with ethnic Russians specifically to create a situation where the Crimea "wanted" to be part of Russia". And it was the Crimean Tatars who were deported, not "Crimean natives". The Tatars made up the majority of the population of Crimea from the 1400s to the late 1800s.
posted by I-baLL at 7:12 PM on March 8


The vacant mansions are yet another way the transnational super-rich oligarchs manifest their socially destructive existence. Perfect places for squatters to occupy.
posted by lathrop at 7:18 PM on March 8


Fnarf: "The Crimea is not the Sudetenland. The analogy is 75 years out of date; you might as well call him "Napoleon". You'd still be wrong. This is a modern issue for which a different understanding is called for."

We always try to analogise from the past to the present. I've read a lot of journalism and essays from the 1920s and 1930s. It's remarkable how many much energy was spent arguing the pros and cons of comparing (italian) fascism, "Hitlerism" and "Bonapartism".

Back in the 1920s, I guess the worst thing you could be compared to was Bonaparte. The analogy was flawed in its specifics but congruent in its frame.
posted by meehawl at 7:44 PM on March 8


The Tatars made up the majority of the population of Crimea from the 1400s to the late 1800s.

The news last night suggested that the Tartars are flooding out of Crimea, and that there are "neo-nazi" gangs going around marking out Tartar-owned houses and businesses.
posted by Mezentian at 8:44 PM on March 8


How the hell is this about toeing the US line?

You did read the article, yeah?

This isn't about the US at all.

Precisely my point.

posted by pompomtom at 11:53 PM on March 8


Perfect places for squatters to occupy.

However, the UK Government recently tightened up the squatting laws, partly in response to empty mansions in Mayfair being taken over. Now it's a criminal rather than civil matter, so the police can be used to protect the interests of property owners for just the price of a few hundred quid of council tax.
posted by kerplunk at 5:19 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


this vote re: the Crimea wanting to secede, is there reason to believe that it's not legit?

The vote made by the Crimea parliament? Well, it happened shortly after the Russians occupied the building and installed their own guy as prime minister. There are apparently some reports that it may not have been an entirely fair vote, and no particular evidence that it was. No proof one way or the other really, of course.

The proposed referendum? I can think of a few reasons to suspect that it might not be entirely legit. It's illegal according to the constitution of Ukraine. The proposed question is a bit sketchy by any standard if this is true. They're rushing to make it happen before any international observers can be brought in. Russia is not really a country noted for democratic best practices. It may be slightly dangerous for obviously not-Russian people to go out in the streets at all in some places, let alone trying to vote. It may be a majority who are ethnically Russian there, but it's said to be only around 60% and you can assume that not all of them really want their country to outright join the Russian Federation. So it seems a bit unlikely that the Russians would win a fair vote. Their recent military actions can't be helping their actual popularity much I would think. The only question is what margin of victory they will decide to announce. Is there any half-way plausible number that would give them victory, or will they go for 99%?
posted by sfenders at 6:59 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Based on those questions the main method of protest is likely to be abstention.
posted by jaduncan at 7:27 AM on March 9


Russia, Ukraine and Us - panel and audience discussion at the London School of Economics, broadcast on BBC radio.

NB Although the notes say it's 15 min, it's more like 45 min. The BBC link should work for another week or so, the LSE should have a permanently available podcast version up before that disappears.
posted by philipy at 1:20 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]






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