British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is considering a plan to reveal the hidden financial assets of Russia President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle to embarrass them in front of their struggling citizens, The Daily Telegraph
The pressure to broadcast the extraordinary secret wealth of Putin and his powerful political associates is seen as part of the information war with Russia over Britain’s outrage at the country’s continuing incursion into eastern Ukraine, including the invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Hammond warned that Putin has been strengthening his armed forces in recent months, and said that the country’s bid to destabilize Eastern Europe poses "the greatest single threat" to British national security, according to the newspaper.
The minister also said that Russia’s rearmament is a "significant cause for concern" to the United Kingdom and admitted that its intelligence agencies are aggressively recruiting Russian speakers.
The secret bank accounts of Putin and his political associates likely runs into tens of billions of dollars, and are held in offshore banking institutions and property in London and New York, said the Telegraph, which noted that their fortunes were often derived from the mass privatizations of government assets during the 1990s.
Putin’s official salary of a $144,000 a year, plus an apartment and three cars, has been mocked in Britain, while a report by The New York Times
says that Putin is suspected of actually having a secret personal fortune of $40 billion.
The members of the Russian leader’s wealthy inner circle include railways boss Vladimir Yakunin, oil trader Gennady Timchenko, banking magnate Yuri Kovalchuk, oil company chief Igor Sechin, and construction tycoon brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenburg, according to the Telegraph.
"When we talk about having further steps that we can take, increasing the pressure on Russia, one heading we regularly review is … how can we message the Russian people, and to people that Russia is seeking to influence, about what is really going on," said Hammond of possibly releasing details about the secret accounts.
In a speech to Royal United Services Institute in Britain, he said, "President Putin's actions — illegally annexing Crimea and now using Russian troops to destabilize eastern Ukraine — fundamentally undermine the security of sovereign nations of Eastern Europe.
"The rapid pace with which Russia is seeking to modernize her military forces and weapons combined with the increasingly aggressive stance of the Russian military, including Russian aircraft around the sovereign airspace of NATO states, are all significant causes of concern."
Hammond added, "So we are in familiar territory for anyone over the age of about 50, with Russia's behavior a stark reminder that it has the potential to pose the single greatest threat to our security.
"Continuing to gather intelligence on their capabilities and intentions will remain a vital part of our intelligence effort for the foreseeable future. It is no coincidence that all the agencies are recruiting Russian speakers again."
Russia's economy has been hard hit by the Western sanctions for the country's role in backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions, along with falling oil prices, led to a dramatic crash of the Russian ruble
in December to half its value against the dollar.
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