Donald MacLeod: The day a Kremlin rebel flew into Glasgow for VIP party

IT was a rare and uplifting sight to behold. Our MPs standing together, unified in the House of Commons, giving the proud Ukrainian ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko, in the public gallery, a message of support by way of a heartfelt standing ovation.

A truly historic and poignant show of parliamentary unity which, after enduring two painful years of divisive inter-party Covid mudslinging, came as a very welcome surprise.

And thankfully that unity prevailed during a sombre and less heated PMQs, where the unfolding horror in Ukraine focused minds and calmed hotter heads.

It’s said that cometh the hour, cometh the man. And so credit where credit is due because there is no doubt that as Putin’s war of choice becomes a horrific and bloody war of necessity, one in which he has to win, that Boris Johnson has stepped up to the mark and admirably led from the front with his emphatic support for Ukraine and its terrified people.

A marked change from the bumbling buffoonery that we have come to expect from the PM, and one that has gained the respect and praise from a great many world leaders and heads of state, not least the Ukraine’s brave, resourceful and grateful President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But the transformation of the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer shouldn’t be overlooked. He too has stepped up and after what seems an age in which the dinosaurs could have evolved, has now finally matured as a credible leader, and started to impress.

His calm, assured, and incisive questioning of the PM on why Roman Abramovich, who  has denied having ties with the Kremlin, and Russia’s former deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov, a man chillingly said to have his “hands dipped in the blood of Putin’s war”, have both avoided UK sanctions was an accomplished and confident performance and one that had Johnson rattled.

Urging Johnson to speed up sanctions on Russian oligarchs, Starmer said: “Transparency is essential to rooting out corruption” adding that “now is the time to sanction every oligarch and crack open every shell company”.

He said: “We must stand up to Putin and those who prop up his regime” and “Roman Abramovich is a person of interest because of his links to the Russian state and public association with corrupt activity and practices.”

As for Igor Shuvalov, he pointed out that he owned two flats in central London “worth over £11m” and “that these properties are registered under a shell company owned by the Russian politician and his wife.”

It should be noted that nearly £200 million of UK property is said to be linked to Kremlin-supporting oligarchs. In the decade to 2018, it’s been estimated that an eyewatering £68 billion was hidden in British tax havens, seven times more than on the UK mainland.

Chris Bryant MP asked why Parliamentary privilege wasn’t being used to bypass legal threats to name and shame oligarchs and their alleged wrong doing. Why indeed?

The PM responded saying: “The vice is tightening on the Putin’s regime” and that: “The UK of course is doing everything that we can to expose ill-gotten Russian loot”. Well clearly more needs doing here and at a faster pace.

I’ve only ever dealt with one oligarch, and it was a pretty sobering experience. In 2005, Kremlin outlaw Boris Berezovsky who had fallen foul of Putin, flew secretly into Glasgow with his armed entourage and highly paid escorts for a private VIP party at The Tunnel nightclub.

Security was tight as there was allegedly a $250 million bounty on his head, a point not missed by some of my stewards who I discouraged from the stupid notion they had of trying to capture him and claim the reward. As measure of his gratitude, not so generous Boris sent me a box of T-shirts with a Russian T-34 tank printed on the front and list of the countries the old USSR had conquered on the back. They were immediately binned.

Boris Berezovsky died under mysterious circumstances at his Berkshire home in 2013. Did Putin eventually get his man? Who knows? But the Russian tanks are again rolling while bloodthirsty Mad Vlad, cocooned from all reality, gleefully watches Ukraine burn.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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