I last wrote about the plague of Russian oligarchs in 2015. They were repulsive then, they are repulsive now. Mikhail Fridman, one of their more famous number, conceded this week that war was a bad thing but refused to blame Putin. He did, however, blame the EU for sanctioning him and said that he will take legal action.
Well, he won’t if he can’t get a half-way decent law firm to act for him. Yesterday, Jamie broke the news that Ashurst has refused to take on any new Russian clients and will cease to take on instructions from its current ones. I disclose the interest that the firm is my alma mater (albeit a long time ago), but that is absolutely banging. If I were wearing a hat I’d take it off to them. The President of the hopeless Law Society bleats that ‘it’s the job of solicitors to represent their clients, whoever they may be’. No it’s not, not against a landscape like this. Ashurst has stolen a march on other City firms who will surely follow suit (particularly now Tory MP Bob Seely has used parliamentary privilege to name and shame the worst perpetrators).
Putin, strong like bear (although presumably also hung like mouse) won’t care less. He places little if any value on the lives and happiness of his own people, even if they are billionaires. Fridman complains that Russia is a dictatorship and sanctioning him and his mates won’t stop his psychopathic President from doing whatever he wants. He’s wrong.
The civilised world should sanction the oligarchs’ collective arse as hard as it can. Freeze their accounts, confiscate their football clubs, PNG the lot of them. See how they get on stuck in Moscow, without their Kensington mansions full of Picassos, hookers and blow, unable to travel anywhere or access their billions. I’m guessing that in pretty short order they’ll want a resolution to this mess. That resolution won’t come from Putin, who would rather see Russia sink lower than North Korea than climb down and de-escalate. It won’t come from the average Russian. I feel for them, plunged into a war they don’t want by a president they didn’t vote for, watching their mortgages double overnight, their savings eroding to nothing and their sons returning in body bags. But they can’t do anything. It appears that if anyone so much as mutters ‘Ukraine’ on a Moscow street, a bunch of goons in riot gear will immediately descend upon them and drag them to the Lubyanka. The resolution can only come from the oligarchs themselves, who will run out of patience and decide to depose him in a night of the long knives. Or maybe even slip him some of his own novichok.
Rumour has it that the most likely pretender to the throne is Igor Sechin, and some reckon he's even worse than Putin. I’ll take my chances. This nightmare won’t come to an end until Putin is out of office or six feet under. The oligarchs can make both those things happen, and if City law firms can play some small part in making life unbearably uncomfortable for them and force their hand, then three cheers.