A week ago, when the idea of sanctions against Russia was first officially announced, we made a statement, which was obviously in jest yet which, as so often happens, was so rooted in reality:
U.S. CONSIDERING SANCTIONS ON RUSSIAN BANKS, OFFICIAL SAYS. So short London/NYC real estate you say?
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) March 2, 2014
How is this an indication of reality? Well, for one, as we reported previously, the one country that has the most to lose from Russian sanctions, Germany, and specifically its industrial superlobby has already said “Nein” to any truly crippling trade blockade of Moscow would backfire on Germany’s own economy and bottom line.
But what about London? Here, the NYT explains why, once again, it was all about the money, and why were right even when we were being humorous:
The White House has imposed visa restrictions on some Russian officials, and President Obama has issued an executive order enabling further sanctions. But Britain has already undermined any unified action by putting profit first.
It boils down to this: Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money. And forget about Ukraine.
At this point, in standing with the ideological framework of the host media outlet, the author takes a detour into naive idealism – a world in which it is not money that talks, but a declining global superpower, whose hypocrisy has been exposed time and again, and where extinct words like “mission” and “moral” are used with reckless abandon:
Britain, open for business, no longer has a “mission.” Any moralizing remnant of the British Empire is gone; it has turned back to the pirate England of Sir Walter Raleigh. Britain’s ruling class has decayed to the point where its first priority is protecting its cut of Russian money — even as Russian armored personnel carriers rumble around the streets of Sevastopol. But the establishment understands that, in the 21st century, what matters are banks, not tanks.
The Russians also understand this. They know that London is a center of Russian corruption, that their loot plunges into Britain’s empire of tax havens — from Gibraltar to Jersey, from the Cayman Islands to the British Virgin Islands — on which the sun never sets.
British residency is up for sale. “Investor visas” can be purchased, starting at £1 million ($1.6 million). London lawyers in the Commercial Court now get 60 percent of their work from Russian and Eastern European clients. More than 50 Russia-based companies swell the trade at London’s Stock Exchange. The planning regulations have been scrapped, and along the Thames, up go spires of steel and glass for the hedge-funding class.
Britain’s bright young things now become consultants, art dealers, private banker and hedge funders. Or, to put it another way, the oligarchs’ valets.
Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, gets it: you pay them, you own them. Mr. Putin was absolutely certain that Britain’s managers — shuttling through the revolving door between cabinet posts and financial boards — would never give up their fees and commissions from the oligarchs’ billions. He was right.
So, let us get this straight? It is great when the Russian oligrachs “invest” their stolen money in luxury London real estate, the FTSE100, and various other inflating assets which are mistaken for an improvement in the broader “economy”, but when the alarm clock of realpolitick rings, it was all bad?
What we are more stunned by is that while London has at least figured out the quid pro quo, the US, and its leader, so far seem completely incapable of doing so. Perhaps someone should explain to Obama that with the Fed tapering, the only incremental buyer of high end real estate are precisely the oligarchs from Russia, whom he will soon alienate, as well as those from China, which also may decide it is too risky to park “hot money” in New York triplexes, and instead once again, like in 2011, park it all in gold and other precious metals.
But going back to the NYT article, the author does make the following accurate observation: “This is Britain’s growth business today: laundering oligarchs’ dirty billions, laundering their dirty reputations.“
His conclusion, too, is spot on:
The Shard encapsulates the new hierarchy of the city. On the top floors, “ultra high net worth individuals” entertain escorts in luxury apartments. By day, on floors below, investment bankers trade incomprehensible derivatives.
Come nightfall, the elevators are full of African cleaners, paid next to nothing and treated as nonexistent. The acres of glass windows are scrubbed by Polish laborers, who sleep four to a room in bedsit slums. And near the Shard are the immigrants from Lithuania and Romania, who broke their backs on construction sites, but are now destitute and whiling away their hours along the banks of the Thames.
The Shard is London, a symbol of a city where oligarchs are celebrated and migrants are exploited but that pretends to be a multicultural utopia. Here, in their capital city, the English are no longer calling the shots. They are hirelings.
Still think Putin is ready to “blink”?