Read Time: 6 minutes
By DC Kwame Kwakye
An oligarch according to britannica.com is “A person who belongs to a small group of people who govern or control a country, business, etc”. This means oligarchs are mostly men or women of influence who are normally very rich and control large amounts of wealth or businesses in their country and elsewhere.
In other words, Oligarchy is a term for a “government in which power is held by a select few individuals or a small class of powerful people.”
This can mean that these few people are the actual leaders, or that they influence or control the decisions that the leaders make (the ones “pulling the strings” behind the scenes)” (Dictionary. com, 2022).
Because they are normally very rich people, it would suffice to have a fair idea about the number of billionaires across the world. To this, the World Population Review (2022), gives a list of the world’s billionaires as follows; United States – 724, China – 698 (626 mainland, 71 Hong Kong, 1 Macau), India – 140, Germany – 136, Russia – 117, Hong Kong – 71, Brazil – 65, Canada – 64, United Kingdom – 56 and Italy – 51.
The above shows that Russia has the 5th highest number of billionaires in the world while the USA tops the table. The disturbing issue is that, why are Russian billionaires called Oligarchs and not that of other countries? Can it be said that the billionaires of other countries don’t have ties with government or haven’t benefited in any shape or form from their governments? Certainly not!
My major preoccupation is the sanctioning of Russian oligarchs around the world due to the ongoing war in Ukraine by Russia.
On March 10, 2022 Gilchrist writing for the CNBC published a story tilted “UK adds Russian billionaire and Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich to sanctions list”. The story reads in part, “The British government said Thursday that Abramovich was among seven Russian businessmen added to its sanctions list as it ramps up pressure on the pariah state over its invasion of Ukraine.
The new list includes further members of Putin’s inner circle, such as Oleg Deripaska, Dmitri Lebedev and Igor Sechin, who have a combined net worth of over £15 billion ($19.7 billion), according to a government announcement.
All seven men will see their assets frozen and travel restricted”.
Boris Johnson in announcing the sanctions said “There can be no safe havens for those who have supported Putin’s vicious assault on Ukraine”. He added that “Today’s sanctions are the latest step in the U.K.’s unwavering support for the Ukrainian people. We will be ruthless in pursuing those who enable the killing of civilians, destruction of hospitals and illegal occupation of sovereign allies”.
Two days ahead of UK sanctions, Aljazeera Media Network had reported that “Japan has frozen the assets of dozens more Russian and Belarusian officials and oligarchs in Tokyo’s latest move to punish Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine (Aljazeera Media Network, 2022).
The latest sanctions target 20 Russians, including deputy chiefs of staff for President Vladimir Putin’s administration, the head of the Chechen Republic, and executives of companies with close ties to the Kremlin such as Volga Group, Transneft, and Wagner, the country’s finance ministry said on Tuesday”.
As if the above was not enough, the USA, Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, Singapore, Italy, South Korea, and Australia have all issued sanctions against Russian Oligarchs.
Now, all these have been permissible because Russia has invaded Ukraine and all over the world, Russian investments from its citizens are under assault and seizure. The rationale behind these actions are meant to pressurize President Vladimir Putin of Russia to stand down on the Ukraine war.
The difficulty I have with these sanctions is this; how can anyone link all the oligarchs to the decision by Putin to invade Ukraine? Can anyone provide any prove that all the Oligarchs are in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Are the Oligarchs being targeted just because they are Russians or because all of them have some association with Putin? Is it that, the West, that is United States of America and the EU have something against Russians? Could it be just because Ukraine professes to be EU member than staying neutral?
Enter Iraq War
Casting our minds back to 2003 to 2011, the Iraq War, also known as Second Persian Gulf War. The conflict which started in Iraq consisted of two phases.
The first of these was a brief, conventionally fought war in March–April 2003, in which a combined force of troops from the United States and Great Britain (with smaller contingents from several other countries) invaded Iraq and subsequently defeated Iraqi military and paramilitary forces.
The second phase according to Britannica. com was rather a longer one in which a U.S.-led occupation of Iraq was resisted by an insurgency. After violence began to decline in 2007, the United States gradually reduced its military presence in Iraq, formally completing its withdrawal in December 2011.
The Iraq War and the continued occupation by the USA lasted over eight years. Within all these years of occupation, no oligarch or billionaire from the USA, Great Britain and their allies suffered any sanctions. Why Russian Oligarchs now?
What Was the Cause of the War in Iraq?
Former U.S. President George W. Bush argued that the vulnerability of the United States following the September 11 attacks of 2001, combined with Iraq’s alleged continued possession and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction and its support for terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, justified the U.S.’s war with Iraq.
It was later discovered that, the accusations against Saddam Hussein of having a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction which was trumpeted by Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State under the Bush administration, was a hoax.
Indeed, years later, when Powell was confronted with the facts regarding Iraq, he was forced to acknowledge that his UN presentation, painstakingly prepared across several days by the CIA, was wrong.
“It turned out, as we discovered later, that a lot of sources that had been attested to by the intelligence community were wrong,” Powell told Al Jazeera in 2011 interview (Roberts, 2021).
Russia’s reasons for invading Ukraine.
In a story by Paul Kirby, titled “Why has Russia invaded Ukraine and what does Putin want?” and published by bbc.com in 2021 and updated in 2022, Kirby outlines Russia’s reason among others as not feeling “safe, develop and exist” because of constant threat from modern Ukraine.
Another reason from Russia was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine.
The third reason was Ukraine has made clear it wants to join the European Union and the Western defensive alliance, NATO, but the Kremlin will not have it. President Vladimir Putin accused NATO of threatening “our historic future as a nation”.
Coincidentally, the reasons for which Russia has invaded Ukraine are similar to the reasons provided by the USA to justify their invasion of Iraq seventeen years ago. The fear factor cuts across. If America could attack Iraq, a country several hundreds of kilometers away and on a different continent for the fear of possessing weapons of mass destruction and their alleged support for al-Qaeda, then why can’t Russia attack Ukraine if it doesn’t feel safe with its activities?
If America and Great Britain’s wealthy businessmen were not sanctioned when their countries decided to attack Iraq, then why would all Russian Oligarchs be sanctioned for their country’s invasion of Ukraine? Could it be that as George Orwell put it, in the animal kingdom, some animals are more animals than others?
I don’t support war of any kind. We cannot live in a world where others think they can do as they please while others cannot. What world are we trying to build if this were to be the case?
I’m sure Russia didn’t just wake up to invade Ukraine for no apparent reason. By all means, there have been a series of talks that have proved futile. Russia fearing the NATO occupation of Ukraine decided to attack. Why didn’t all the countries that are sanctioning Russian Oligarchs step in to assuage the fears of Russia?
Inasmuch as I disagree with the invasion of Ukraine, I equally disagree with the sanctions of the oligarchs who may not directly be involved in the running of the Russian Government.
Unfortunately, some media houses have also joined by hypocritically labeling the Russian Invasion of Ukraine as Putin’s war. For what reason, I don’t know. During the Great Britain and USA Invasion of Iraq that was termed the “Iraq War” or “Second Persian Gulf War”, Why wasn’t the invasion be termed “Bush or Blair War”.
If we want to achieve universal brotherhood, then we should be each other’s keeper rather than antagonistic towards each other.
There is no proof that all the oligarchs of Russia are in favor of the invasion of Ukraine so why sanction all oligarchs and make it appear as grand collusion with President Putin?
Now, with the UK sanctions, Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich is on the verge of losing his pet team, Chelsea.
“Abramovich has owned Chelsea since 2003 and the club has won 21 trophies in 19 years during his stewardship” (Sky UK, 2022). Currently, the club is the best in the world. They have UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and currently the FIFA Club World Cup adding to the tally of English teams that have achieved that feat.
As it stands, THREE, a telecommunications network has suspended their £120MILLION shirt sponsorship contract with Chelsea following the Government’s crackdown on Roman Abramovich. The Hypocrisy with this attitude stems from the fact that Chelsea as a club is an English club. Even though owned by Abramovich, the playing body is an amalgamation of players from across the globe including English players and not Russians, so why this action?
I personally don’t have any problem with countries issuing sanctions against the Russian state, but to sanction oligarchs who are not connected to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not desirable.
If the world wants to enjoy some peace, then world leaders should be seen to be dealing fairly with one another. The current posture against some of the Oligarchs as if they are in our government and calling the shots needs to change.
Until, we begin to be each other’s keepers, respect each other, and address each other’s fears, achieving universal brotherhood and peace around the world would remain a mirage.