What’s a £25 million yacht among friends?

Putin, reputably the world’s richest man, with some estimates of his wealth reaching $200 billion, doesn’t really need this present. It’s just a small addition to his existing fleet.

Nor does £25 million constitute a significant outlay for the billionaire donor, Roman Abramovich. The yacht he gave to Putin is no more than a trinket, like a teddy bear one gives to a girlfriend who has a jewellery box full of diamonds.

Actually, my interest in Russian gangsters is tepid at best. My main concern is our response to Russian gangsters, especially those in the Kremlin. Specifically, I’m fascinated by the kid gloves the West invariably dons when dealing with political evil.

That our foreign policy is guided not by morality but by expediency is obvious and, at times, understandable. However, our notion of what’s expedient is catastrophically wrong.

Political evil responds not to leniency but to a show of force. The force doesn’t necessarily have to be military, although that should be at least implicit. More important is a show of moral strength – an explicit statement that good won’t tolerate evil as of right.

Alas, just when such a firm stand vis-à-vis Russia would be vital, the West’s sphincter loosens and the kid gloves come onto its trembling hands. What results is appeasement, something one would have thought was irrevocably compromised in 1939.

Policy may be held hostage to expediency, but morality shouldn’t be. Yet only now does the West begin to make vague noises about Putin’s evil. Until political cards fell just so, morality had remained shoved deep into our sleeve.

That Putin is an evil gangster has been known since 1992, when Marina Sal’ye completed her investigation of Putin’s shenanigans in his official capacity as Petersburg’s Deputy Mayor. (Unofficially he was assigned by the KGB to control Mayor Sobchak, just as Gen. Korzhakov was performing the same function for President Yeltsyn.)

At that time Putin was flogging illegally everything he could lay his hands on, including submarines. The nicest touch was exporting $100 million worth of raw materials in exchange for food a starving Petersburg badly needed. The raw materials promptly left Russia, yet no food arrived.

Already in those early days Putin’s purloined wealth stood at tens of millions. When he ascended to power, the KGB colonel began to move up the ranks, using an elaborate network of third-party launderers to amass what could be the world’s greatest capital.

All this has been known in the West for at least 20 years. In fact, back in 2007 a CIA report already put Putin’s ill-gotten wealth at $45 million – yet the report was never made public.

Even the first two aggressive wars Putin started, against Chechnya and Georgia, didn’t loosen our governments’ tongues. It’s only when the emboldened thug grabbed the Crimea, attacked the Ukraine and had a Malaysian airliner shot down that our appeasers began to stir to life, if in a gingerly fashion.

Suddenly the US Treasury begins to talk about Putin’s corruption, nepotism and embezzlement of state funds. So what else is new?

Speaking to BBC Panorama, Adam Szubin, who oversees sanctions in the US Treasury, said all this has been known for “many, many years”. Why such craven silence until now then?

One can almost see that it may be imprudent for Western governments to acknowledge publicly that the leader of a major nuclear power is a common bandit. But surely our press, with its much-touted commitment to free speech, shouldn’t have such compunctions?

Yet I have it on good authority that both The Wall Street Journal and our own FT are sitting on a wealth of information about the underground network of laundering conduits channelling Putin’s (and other gangsters’) money into the West.

Every detail has been laid bare – so where are the sensational reports? Are we waiting for Russia to launch a nuclear strike before we become more forthcoming with the truth?

Likewise it has taken Britain nine years to complete an inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Correction: what took nine years wasn’t completing the inquiry, it was publishing its results. The actual investigation didn’t even take nine weeks – the case was open and shut almost instantly.

This means we’ve known for nine years who murdered Litvinenko and who, in Sir Robert Owen’s phrase, ‘probably’ ordered the Mafia-style hit, albeit with a more sophisticated weapon.

In other words, we know that Putin is definitely a gangster and ‘probably’ a murderer, However, our response is emetically timid.

On the mendacious pretext that we need Putin’s support in Syria, Cameron’s government has reacted to the new/old facts with insouciance. It’s as if we are so weak that we desperately need Putin to bomb Syrian schools and hospitals first, wait for the rescue workers to arrive and then, with typical KGB perfidy, hit them with a secondary strike.

In an uncharacteristic show of candour, John Major, then Britain’s PM, identified Neville Chamberlain as his role model among his predecessors. Cameron probably feels the same way, and the spirit of Munich still befouls the air in our corridors of power.

Have we forgotten that 1938 was followed by 1939, and not just chronologically?


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