Weasel words, empty rhetoric… propaganda. 

Liz Hamson leader

Liz Hamson, editor

We all like to think it is only other people in other countries who resort to such language, but as the war in Ukraine escalates and the humanitarian horror of the situation leads to hearts ruling heads, similarly ambiguous and the opposite, overly black and white, pronouncements are ever more readily being made here.

The contrast between the rightly eulogised Volodymyr Zelensky and our very own Boris Johnson could not have been starker this week. On the one hand, we had Zelensky channelling Shakespeare and Churchill in his dignified, historic address to the House of Commons calling for UK support and vowing Ukrainians would “fight to the end”. On the other, we had the self-proclaimed heir to Churchill loudly promising to welcome refugees from Ukraine and bolster sanctions against Russia.

No one doubts Zelensky’s words. Who doesn’t doubt Johnson’s? As Property Week went to press, just 700 or so refugees had been granted temporary visas (many disgracefully forced to schlep from Calais to Paris as there was no visa processing centre in the French port town) and while the sanctions had become tougher, many oligarchs were seemingly still going about their business relatively freely. Kwasi Kwarteng, meanwhile, had announced the UK would stop importing Russian oil and oil products… by the end of the year. Rhetoric doesn’t get much emptier.

Bold statements are required, but they need to be backed up by actions

While caution must, of course, be the operative word when it comes to the West’s military response, this is not the time to be cagey, weak or slow in our humanitarian and economic responses. These are the areas where bold statements are required, but they need to be backed up by actions, not just from government but by business.

As Property Week went to press, WeWork announced it was suspending operations in Russia. It is heartening to see a growing number of big agencies do the same. As with the major Western brands now coming under pressure to follow the suit of McDonald’s, L’Oréal, Starbucks, Inditex and H&M in pulling out, those who continue to hold out will come under growing pressure to act. If they don’t, they will rightly face opprobrium and run the risk of serious reputational damage. Being an outlier is often a good thing. Not in this instance.

Mipim’s organisers, to their credit, quickly realised it was not a good look, but while Russian exhibitors have been banned from attending this year’s event, delegates have not, and a quick look at the delegate list shows some Russians are still down as going. The same is true on paper of Ukrainians, although when we reached out to some of those listed, one responded that he was “not able to leave Ukraine right now” (presumably alluding to the fact all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are expected to stay and fight). This, of course, is another euphemism – but unlike so much current political speak, an entirely legitimate one.

It will be interesting to hear what members of the international property community have to say at the first in-person Mipim of scale since 2019 about the terrible events unfolding in Ukraine. The escalating tensions will surely cast a shadow. Let’s hope the sobering geopolitical backdrop encourages people to focus on the global real estate issues that really matter, such as “dirty” Russian money, ESG and the post-pandemic recovery – and people don’t just take the opportunity to indulge in escapism, drink too much rosé and stick their heads in the Cannes sand.