Malta needs to have a long and hard think about our relationship with Russia. Please don’t push this too far from your mind on the usual Lilliputian pretext that we’re too small for anyone to care. Dom Mintoff has really ingrained in the collective psyche of this country the notion that we can act like mice in the world: hide in wall-boards beyond the notice of the giants, slip in to steal what we want and wiggle out of sight before our presence is noticed.
Even as we continue to think this, we punch way beyond our size on the world stage, preaching from a cardboard pulpit on migrant burden sharing and about tax sovereignty, blowing our own cover even as we rob our neighbours blind.
We persuaded a majority of the country to support EU membership largely on these Mintoffian piracy terms. No heady talk here about a federation for peace and shared sovereignty for cross-border solidarity. Instead it was about how much money we could extract to build wider roads on which we could get stuck travelling from one parking nightmare to the next.
And before that money could run out we found another way of profiting at the expense of the barrani we find it so easy to despise. We sell the right to live, work and move money in Europe to people from outside the Union and pocket the income from that privilege for ourselves.
The biggest source of clients for this ‘scheme’ is Russia. As Oliver Bullough put it in this article, ‘you’re not rich in Russia without being friends with Putin’. And some very rich Russians are now also Maltese.
This brood of oligarchs is not merely an extractive, abusive dictatorial regime like, say, Azerbaijan’s. The Putin circle has redefined imperialism adopting as a private enterprise a cynical program of greedy grasping eliminating anything or anyone that comes in their way.
These tycoons are backed by the security infrastructure of the Russian state. The state provides that backing in exchange for their support of Putin’s regime. They play in their favourite playgrounds of the north east United States and the south east of England and they will isolate, threaten, even kill anyone who seeks to stop them.
And many of them are doing this holding a Maltese passport.
Here in Malta people are not realising the consequences of this Faustian deal for a quick buck that we have entered into. Sure we rake in the millions from the passport fees, the commissions and the fake rentals of garages that serve as virtual kibbutzim for oil tycoons. But our harbouring of these legitimised criminals makes us accomplices to the crimes they commit while we pretend not to watch.
The backlash in the UK right now is palpable and it will be hard for an isolated post-Brexit Britain that cannot rely on Donald Trump’s United States for support in their issues with Putin to manage the ‘Russian problem’ without some bold actions on Russian billionaires that use the UK as their home away from home.
There is talk of collective visa cancellations and deportation of their children boarded in UK schools. It may be the heat after a second John la Carré attempt on a dissident in leafy England and things can calm down from the current whisk. But it is not likely that things remain unchanged.
In that post-Brexit Britain it is not unlikely that a Maltese passport will be listed along with the other face value indicators of likely unwelcome Russian infiltration. There was a time half a century ago when a Maltese passport in Heathrow hinted at possible links to the petty underworld. Now we are flirting with a different degree of collective prejudice altogether.
One deep and profound mistake we are all going to regret, even those who are sharing in the proceeds from the sale of passports, is that instead of going for a cash-for-residency scheme that we could revoke with relative ease, we are actually selling citizenship which is a more permanent commitment even with people whose association with Malta might prove unpleasant.
You can revoke a residency permit by batting an administrative eyelid. But how easy will it be to stop someone being Maltese, even if they paid to become one?
The UK might be getting ready to ban entry visas for corrupt Russians as this Telegraph story reports. But as a journalist for German DW pointed out in response, they still have the rest of Europe to exploit and their way in is Malta.
— Teri Schultz (@terischultz) March 11, 2018
What games we play.