The UK has imposed sanctions on Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, freezing his assets even after he vowed to sell off a major football club and donate the proceeds to victims of the war in Ukraine. The much-needed humanitarian aid is now in limbo amid a Western inquisition against all things Russian.
The billionaire metals magnate – who also holds citizenship in Israel and Portugal – was one of seven people sanctioned by the British government on Thursday for alleged ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. London now appears to control the future of the Chelsea Football Club, which Abramovich said he would sell in an announcement last week.
"While the current license does not permit the sale of the club at this time, the Government is open to a sale of the club and would consider an application for a new license to allow for a sale," the UK’s sports and culture ministry said in a statement. "Proceeds from any sale could not go to the sanctioned individual while he is subject to sanctions."
The team will be allowed to continue operations through May 31 on a temporary license, although Abramovich will not be able to collect profits from the venture going forward. In announcing the sanctions, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said "oligarchs and kleptocrats have no place in our economy or society," and that their "close links to Putin" make them "complicit in his aggression."
"The blood of the Ukrainian people is on their hands. They should hang their heads in shame," she added.
However, Truss failed to explain how Abramovich is "complicit" in the Russian invasion. The industrialist – who also owns Millhouse Capital and holds a major stake in the steel and mining giant Evraz – has not endorsed the attack on Ukraine. In fact, in the press release announcing his plan to sell the team and create a charitable foundation for war victims, Abramovich appeared to sympathize with Ukrainians.
"The foundation will be for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine. This includes providing critical funds towards the urgent and immediate needs of victims, as well as supporting the long-term work of recovery," he said.
In a 2012 ruling, moreover, UK High Court judge Elizabeth Gloster argued that while Abramovich maintained "very good relations with President Putin," she added that there is "no evidential basis supporting the contention that Mr. Abramovich was in a position to manipulate, or otherwise influence, President Putin, or officers in his administration," even in pursuit of his own financial interests.
The 2012 case centered on allegations that Abramovich used his sway in Moscow to force another businessman to sell shares in Russian oil firm Sibneft, but the court found that he had little influence over the Kremlin, a conclusion highly at odds with Thursday’s sanctions.
"I am prepared to assume that, on occasion, President Putin may have taken his views into account when making decisions, but the suggestion that Mr. Abramovich was in a position to pull the presidential strings was simply not borne out by the evidence," judge Gloster continued.
It appears implausible that the move to sanction Abramovich has anything to do with the ongoing invasion or his relationship with Putin, and is more likely related to the current bout of Russophobic hysteria sweeping the West. Russia writ-large is being canceled, sanctioned and boycotted simply for being Russian, going far beyond "oligarchs" and "kleptocrats" to include athletes, Formula One drivers, filmmakers, media commentators and other cultural figures.
Others are facing demands to denounce their homeland, while Russian-owned businesses and institutions have been vandalized in recent weeks, even as many voice vocal support for Ukraine and denounce Moscow’s attack.
While British officials have yet to find a clear link between Abramovich and Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, he has participated in war crimes in the past – just not those of a ‘US adversary.’ A BBC investigation in 2020 found his companies donated over $100 million to an Israeli settler organization accused of forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem – part of Tel Aviv’s decades-long project of occupation, land theft and aparthied, which rarely faces condemnation from Western governments.
Kyle Anzalone is the opinion editor of Antiwar.com and news editor of the Libertarian Institute.Will Porter is the assistant news editor of the Libertarian Institute and a staff writer at RT. Kyle and Will host Conflicts of Interest along with Connor Freeman.