Bill Browder on Russia’s war against Ukraine: ‘It will not end’

“It will not end – it will go on and on and on,” Browder, head of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, told POLITICO.

“Vladimir Putin will not withdraw, and Ukrainians will not give up their country. Unfortunately, this war will be a protracted war in which many more atrocities will be committed, many more heartaches will happen, and Russia will be even more isolated than they already are. is in the international community. ”

The founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management have a deep knowledge of the president and the way Putin’s Russia operates.

Browder, who has worked to expose corruption in Russia, also knows what it feels like to be on Putin’s bad side. This week, he publishes a book entitled “Freezing Order,” in which he describes how he helped uncover “Putin’s campaign to steal and launder hundreds of billions of dollars,” and what happened afterwards.

Browder became prominent through his global efforts to persuade governments to pass criminal law in the name of his friend Sergei Magnitsky. The Moscow lawyer was tortured and killed in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing a massive tax corruption scheme.

Ever since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Browder has been busy sharing his deep knowledge of Russia.

Browder said governments have sought his advice on who to sanction around Putin, how to find the money and where to find the loopholes.

“I have had detailed conversations with high-level officials in the Canadian government on how to respond to this, which I have with the US government and with the UK government,” Browder said in an interview.

“I do not want to offend trust, but what I can say is that I have been thinking about these issues for more than a decade. Many of these governments have only been thinking about them for a month.”

Browder shared his thoughts on Putin, the response from Western democracies, and Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, whom he knows well from their days in Moscow years ago.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

What have you learned about Putin over the years, and what is your position on the West’s response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine?

For 20 years, the West basically turned a blind eye to Putin’s crimes. This is not the first time that Putin has illegally seized or attempted to conquer a sovereign state. He did it in Georgia in 2008, he did it in the Crimea in 2014, he did it in eastern Ukraine after that. This is not the first time he has killed innocent civilians. He did it in Syria, he did it in Ukraine, he made assassinations all over the world. And we have in fact – the West – turned a blind eye and created no consequences. In a way, we have encouraged him to do what he has done right now, which of course is much worse than anything he has done before.

That said, I think the West’s response is now appropriate and appropriate and powerful. The economic sanctions are something I could never have imagined the West to do. They are not complete, but I think they are powerful where they are, even at the moment.

How could the West’s reaction have a stronger effect on Putin?

If we look at the Russian banks that are still allowed to operate, only 70 percent have been disconnected from SWIFT [The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication] – and we must disconnect 100 percent of them from SWIFT.

If we look at the oligarchs who have been sanctioned, there are 118 on the Forbes list and only 12 of them have been sanctioned. More than 100 of them should be sanctioned. And most importantly – and this is the elephant in space – while we carry out all these sanctions, the West – I’m talking mostly about Europe – is still sending a billion dollars a day to Russia in the form of payments for Russian. oil and gas. And it must stop.

Why has the West’s reaction stopped?

There are people who would be financially disadvantaged if 100 percent of the banks are sanctioned, if all the oligarchs are sanctioned, and so it requires even more political will. But I am 100 percent sure that they will all be sanctioned because Putin, by his own cruel act, is creating this political will.

You have been following Putin closely for a long time. Why is he invading Ukraine?

The reason he does this is not because of NATO’s (or) Ukraine’s accession to the EU. He does this because he needs a war to stay popular and stay in power. He has been a dictator for 22 years, he has stolen a huge amount of money from the Russian people, and without the war or some other very visible way to excite his people to a fervor of patriotism, he would no longer be in power. And so it’s his way of staying in power.

How much do you think about misinformation and misinformation when it comes to Russia’s war against Ukraine?

There are two kinds of wars going on right now – there is a military war and there is an information war. And the Russians are very good at information warfare. It does not require large amounts of organized troops and military equipment. It just requires a relatively low investment. … I have been a very big victim of their information warfare and it is very harmful and it can create all sorts of bad results.

How can the West fight Putin’s information war?

The West has done a beautiful job in this particular war. The United States, Canada, Great Britain repeated every day for two months before the invasion that Russia was to invade. So at the time the Russians started spreading their misinformation to justify their invasion, many of the Russian apologist countries basically did not use these arguments because they were so unreliable because of this what I would call a very good information. strategy from the Allies this time.

What else can be done to put pressure on countries that are inclined to support Russia, or even those that have remained neutral?

There is much more to be done. There are certain countries – like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Brazil – that are not hugely powerful where we have a lot of influence. And we should use it to get them not to support Russia and join the civilized world. It makes no sense why South Africa, for example, does this. And if they want to do this, there should be a price to pay.

And what about China?

We have no influence on China. They are a superpower in themselves. But, for example, world consumers have influence. We could all stop buying Chinese goods if they continue to support the war in Ukraine.

How do the oligarchs fit into the picture?

The oligarchs are not powerful in their own right. Basically, they used to be before Putin. But their role now is basically to provide financial assistance to Putin – to take care of his money for him and to take economic action as instructed by him. So they are in fact Vladimir Putin’s financial arm. They are his economic alter ego, and so when we talk about sanctioning Putin, we must also talk about sanctioning the oligarchs.

Freeland has been credited for leading international efforts to sanction Russia’s central bank. She is also a former journalist you know from your time in Moscow. What do you remember about her from your days in Russia?

When I was a fund manager in Moscow, I encountered all sorts of corruption from the oligarchs who own the majority of the companies I had invested in. She was [Financial Times] the bureau chief and I were trying to get various journalists to write about these scams. Most of the journalists were too scared. But she was the only one brave enough to go out and expose one of the greatest oligarchs in Russia at the time, Vladimir Potanin, in a major conflict I was involved in.

And her revelation of him led to his attempt to steal huge amounts of money in vain. It also led to my work as an anti-corruption activist when I saw that I could work with the media to do this type of thing. It enabled both me and other journalists to step in and do the same. She was a real leader, even when she was only a journalist.

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