You would be hard-pressed to find a less sympathetic bunch right now than Russian Oligarchs, but the precedents that are being set against them should be alarming. Extrajudicial confiscation of assets, revoking citizenships, and the like are unprecedented and likely not powers that governments will give up anytime soon.
On Feb 28th the EU Released a list of 21 people that were to be sanctioned in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The accusation was that they were “Russian Oligarchs” and were associates of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government. Now, as far as I know, the word Oligarch is not a legal accusation so it seems to me that these people are being punished for simply being rich, connected, and Russian. Not only have the individuals listed themselves been punished, but their entire families have been subject to the sanctions as well.
Many will say that these Oligarchs have gotten their money through unscrupulous means and connections to the evil Russian government. While that may be true, I can’t help but notice blatant hypocrisy in these accusations levied as crimes against the entire world. Can we even imagine if US billionaires and politicians were sanctioned in such a way for their government’s wrongdoings? Almost all billionaires in the United States have some connection to the government. What if the international community ganged up and unilaterally confiscated the assets and removed from the entire financial system every rich person that knew President Biden because of his support for the war in Libya or George Bush for his invasion of Iraq. The counterexamples are endless.
As soon as the list was released, European countries started confiscating the yachts of anyone on it. Again, I understand how it can be hard to be sympathetic to a Russian Oligarch losing one of his 10+ million dollar yachts. However, let’s step back for a minute and understand how they have now set the precedent of allowing governments to outright steal millions of dollars worth of assets because the “international community” doesn’t like who they associate themselves with. In my continued naïveté, I thought there were supposed to be legal procedures and official accusations of crimes that have to be gone through before the government can just walk in and confiscate your property in broad daylight.
Also, I wonder who is using these yachts now? Perhaps members of the equally corrupt European Elite. Can someone explain to me how this is supposed to benefit the common man again? Especially seeing that these sanctions have completely failed to accomplish their stated goals.
Recently there’s been another level of unprecedented legal overstep that has been unleashed, the confiscation of citizenship. Because of the war, western elites have been complaining about the “golden” passport and visa programs that give people access to buy their way into the EU territories through investment. Last week Cyprus announced that it will revoke the legally acquired citizenship of 21 people who appear on the EU’s naughty list. Keep in mind that these were citizenships that were already paid for with millions of dollars that went into the Cyprian economy or in some cases directly into the government’s coffers and will not be returned.
I am not mentioning all of this to lament the treatment of Russian Oligarchs but rather to point out that these unprecedented sanctions on individuals are likely not going to stop with the Oligarchs and their families. As civil libertarians continuously point out and are continuously proven correct, once the government gets a new power it will never give it up and will only be incentivized to expand it. It seems that now it is acceptable for western governments to confiscate assets, ban from the entire financial system and even revoke the citizenship of, anyone who is labeled as a bad person by the establishment.
The cracking down on Russian Oligarchs may be acceptable for most people now but it’s not hard to see how this could easily escalate. We have seen the ever-escalating Russia-phobic hysteria in the west linking anyone or anything that goes against the establishment narrative to the Kremlin. Whitney Webb has pointed out in her recent article “Ukraine And The New Al Qaeda” the ways that the intelligence agencies are using the Ukrainian conflict to further associate “domestic terrorists” in western countries with the Russian government. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this can be escalated into overt abuse of power and “canceling” anyone who dares to go against the grain. In this case “canceling” someone would mean more than kicking them off of social media platforms, it would mean shutting them out of the entire financial system and revoking their immigration status. In effect non-personing them, basically one step away from black-bagging and disappearing them.
Governments can accomplish exactly what the people put up with. Extrajudicial asset confiscation and revocation of immigration status are new precedents that are now on the table. Whether they will be expanded and to what length we will have to see but observing the general directions of where society is going, I’m not very optimistic that it will be contained to a handful of Russian Oligarchs.