I doubt that many of us could have conceived that as we entered 2022 it would not be the virus that filled our media but the very real threat that an increasingly paranoid dictator in Russia could have seriously raised the threat of nuclear war while NATO was actively supporting Ukraine, where tanks and rockets wreaked destruction in a totally unprovoked invasion by Russian forces.

Steve Norris

Steve Norris

The way in which the Ukrainian people, led by their exemplary president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has so far bravely resisted the Russian invasion has clearly thrown Vladimir Putin’s plans off course, but as I write, the fate of the country is still in the balance.

Putin appears to be intent on going back to the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when Russia not only controlled Ukraine but also of course the Baltic states. It is widely assumed that if he succeeds in Ukraine, his next target will be those three – bordered as they are by Russia itself and by its puppet government in Belarus.

The Baltic states are of course members of NATO and thus Article 5 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty – that an attack on one member state is an attack on all – would be invoked. The very thought of that is truly chilling, something that people of my generation who lived through the Cold War thought we would never see again.

There is a clear sense that up to now the UK has preferred to look the other way

For the first time in four decades, governments in western Europe have come together to retaliate against this outrage perpetrated by the Kremlin. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, which is thus limited to supplying weapons and other matériel that has already helped slow the Russian advance.

More significantly, the EU together with the UK and other European democracies has imposed serious sanctions on Putin, which have caused interest rates in the country to double to 20%, while the Russian Central Bank has effectively been excluded from the means to trade. Flights to and from Russia have been banned. The impact on the country will be severe.

Ukraine tank

Source: Shutterstock / Milan Sommer

There is a serious effort here to expose the Russian regime as having turned the country into a true pariah state. Soon ordinary Russians will feel the pain as mothers mourn the death of their sons in a pointless war. We should not underestimate the consequences when a people who in any event do not trust what they read or watch on state-controlled media see the reality of Putin’s war affecting their own families.

Here in the UK and particularly London, where a substantial number of wealthy Russians live, there is evidence that at last the government will crack down on those whose money has too easily flowed into the property market when the origins of their wealth are far from clear.

Unexplained wealth orders

There are some decent Russians living among us who are here precisely because they detest Putin and everything he and his kleptomaniac friends stand for. But there are a significant number who have so far evaded any serious examination of their sources of income. The fault lies firmly at the government’s door. Unexplained wealth orders, which have been around since early 2018, have only been obtained nine times up to the end of February this year.

Go figure.

There is a clear sense that up to now the UK has preferred to look the other way, perhaps in the belief that if we don’t let people spend their money here they will simply spend it in even more cynical countries. Indeed there are legitimate questions around how many wealthy Russians have donated substantial sums to the Conservative Party. I doubt it is because they so admire our prime minister and our parliamentary democracy.

The impact on our property industry will be minimal. A few luxury brands may feel the pain, but for the rest of us our world is in a very dangerous place and the next few weeks will be critical.

Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and Future-Built