Oliver Bullough

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‘Alexei Navalny’s viral videos have done more than anything to expose the luxurious lifestyles of the Kremlin’s elite.’ Photograph: Pavel Golovkin/AP

My favourite moment in The Godfather comes when Michael, barely moving his mouth, assures his brother: “It’s not personal, Sonny, it’s strictly business.” He’s not killing a New York City police captain to avenge his broken jaw, but to advance the Corleone family’s commercial interests.

It was a line I remembered when I first heard of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption campaigner whose viral videos have done more than anything to expose the luxurious lifestyles of the Kremlin’s elite (here’s one about a vice-premier, a jet and a pedigree corgi). Commentators regularly explain such poisonings – like that of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in 2018, or that of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, or indeed many others – by saying that Vladimir Putin is settling old scores, eradicating perceived traitors.…  Seguir leyendo »

A closed pharmacy in an empty hospital hallway in Zimogorye, Ukraine, in 2015. For years, tens of millions of dollars were siphoned out of the health care budget by corrupt intermediaries and hidden offshore for the benefit of powerful insiders. Credit Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

The scale of global kleptocracy has become so vast — by some accounts, more than one trillion dollars is stolen annually from developing countries — that it is almost impossible to imagine how the problem could ever be defeated. But a tiny victory in Ukraine shows a way forward.

Ukraine has high rates of smoking and drinking, and the national delicacy — salo, or cured pork fat — is representative of a heart-unhealthy traditional cuisine. Cardiovascular disease is by far the leading cause of death in the country, killing two out of every three Ukrainians. Despite this alarming statistic, however, surgeons have long struggled to obtain stents, the small tubes of steel mesh used to open up the arteries that supply oxygen to the heart after they have become clogged.…  Seguir leyendo »

Brexit Is Hurting the Fight Against Corruption

I think David Cameron was the worst prime minister Britain has had in the 40 years I’ve been alive, but his replacement, Theresa May, is competing hard for the title. She has jettisoned the strategic sense that was Mr. Cameron’s only worthwhile talent, and has scrapped his best initiative: fighting international corruption and tax evasion with financial transparency.

Files from HSBC leaked in 2015 showed how years earlier Swiss bankers had conspired with wealthy Westerners to help them dodge taxes. Last year, the Panama Papers revealed the use of shell companies to help corrupt officials hide their money.

This month, journalists in a dozen countries uncovered how officials in Azerbaijan had laundered billions of dollars through companies in Britain with accounts at a Danish bank in Estonia, for the benefit of people in Germany, France, Iran, Kazakhstan, Britain and elsewhere.…  Seguir leyendo »

The historic citadel in Aleppo, Syria, as seen in 1997. Credit Ihlow/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

The difference between Aleppo now and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at the turn of the millennium is that Western leaders are at least trying to save the Syrians trapped in the besieged city. A decade and a half ago, there were precious few diplomatic missions for the Chechens. Within months of taking power, Vladimir V. Putin had moved decisively to regain control of Chechnya — which had broken free of Moscow’s control in a brief but nasty war in the mid-1990s — and world leaders mostly just looked on.

Otherwise, the picture is broadly the same. Mr. Putin knows now, like he knew then, that he and his proxies can’t win on the ground, so they are trying to solve their problem from the air.…  Seguir leyendo »

Here in Ukraine, one revelation from the Panama Papers has attracted more attention than any other: In August 2014, when Ukrainian soldiers were trapped under artillery bombardments during the battle of Ilovaisk, President Petro Poroshenko, a candy magnate, was setting up a corporate vehicle in the British Virgin Islands. While young men were dying to defend Ukraine, their commander-in-chief was looking for ways to deny Ukraine taxes from his own business empire.

But the Mossack Fonseca files have an even bigger story to tell: Generations of Ukrainian politicians, dating back to the earliest days of independence, have kept assets offshore. In 1998 — around the time some of the soldiers killed in Ilovaisk were probably starting school — the company was already suspected of arranging the affairs of Ukrainian politicians.…  Seguir leyendo »

A part of the wreckage of flight MH17. 'New sanctions against Russia are just a matter of time.' Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

Until Thursday, the world was ready to let Ukraine fail: hollowed out by corruption, dismembered by Russia, given up on by western countries. The downing of flight MH17 has changed that.

Visitors can be forgiven for not realising quite how wrecked Ukraine is. Kiev has all the car showrooms, restaurants and elegant architecture of a European capital, but last year Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index rated Ukraine 144th in the world, level with the Central African Republic.

Ukraine’s orgy of kleptocracy reached its riotous peak under Viktor Yanukovych, leaving the country incapable of defending itself, or even of holding itself together.…  Seguir leyendo »

The horror of the attacks in the city of Volgograd is shocking, even by Russia's grim standards. We have become accustomed to terrorists' indiscriminate choice of victims and locations. We have even become accustomed to the lethal choreography of simultaneous attacks.

But in Volgograd the bombers cold-bloodedly returned on Monday, 24 hours after Sunday's attack and two months after another attack in the same city, killing a further 14 people on top of the 23 earlier victims. They are not just organised and merciless, but horribly confident too.

The security services were on high alert. Ordinary citizens were looking for suspicious behaviour.…  Seguir leyendo »

Five years ago, perhaps the news that two women had exploded themselves and at least 38 blameless commuters in Moscow would have left us numb, rather than shocked and despairing. We were more used to it then. But half a decade has passed without such an atrocity, and surely everyone had begun to hope the days of brutality were over.

Already Russian officials have speculated about the help the women must have needed to commit these acts of mass murder. Inevitably, they have used the words "outside forces" – that is, a catch-all term that includes anyone they see as enemies of Russia: the CIA, MI6, al-Qaida, and so on.…  Seguir leyendo »