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‘Keeping peace in Europe is gone’ says Ukrainian finance professor at Cambridge University as protesters get raucous

Ukranians and pro-Ukrainians raucously protested the invasion of their homeland by Russia in a vigorous ‘Stand with Ukraine’ demonstration on Friday evening, while a Ukrainian-born professor of finance at the Cambridge Judge Business School said the best tactic against Russian aggression is to demand “transparency” in all financial exchanges with Russia: past, present and future.

A protester on King’s Parade
A protester on King’s Parade

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent, Prof Andrei Kirilenko spoke of the historic backdrop to the demonstration on King’s Parade.

“It’s not the first war, it’s not the last war for the Ukrainian people,” he said. “What this war has changed is the system of collective security agreements in place since World War Two – and keeping peace in Europe is gone. Whatever agreements come into place after this war, it’s not going to be what was there before.

“Even if it ends – and I hope it ends – the ‘hot’ stage may end, but Ukraine is surrounded north, east and south by authoritarian regimes. They will have to continue fighting – they have no choice. If Ukrainian people are fighting Russia, people in Belarus or Kazakhstan will be getting closer to their freedom.”

Prof Kirilenko says that this new war is not “military versus military, it’s military versus a nation”. He suggests that comprehensive disentanglement of Russian money from Western financial systems is the best strategic response, and that this strategy can only be achieved by tracking all movements of Russian money as it enters, exits and makes its way through Western economies, cultures and organisations.

“Russia is an exporting nation,” Prof Kirilenko says. “It exports one product – corruption. Corruption comes from its hydrocarbon industry, from disinformation, from corrupting other institutions, industries and companies – corruption comes in any possible way they can get away with. Through their gas pipeline they will export corruption. That’s how it works.

“You can see how Russian corruption has been infecting fundamental pillars of British society – and that includes legislative bodies, sports clubs, and cultural and educational institutions. That has been going on and it is very effective and very tenacious, and it needs to be cleaned up.”

Russia's invasion. Graphic: PA
Russia's invasion. Graphic: PA

Sanctions are part of an overall strategy – one which has to include the issue of laundering dirty money through the City of London.

“If you ask me what do I think is the best plan of action, I would say transparency. Number one is sunshine. Number two is ‘make it known’. Tell people: ‘This is where Russian money is invested.’ Not hiding behind secret investments. We know of a couple of individuals like this in the UK, but you can guarantee there are thousands, maybe tens of thousands, more.”

Andrei Kirilenko, professor of finance at Cambridge Judge Business School
Andrei Kirilenko, professor of finance at Cambridge Judge Business School

Prof Kirilenko, whose mother still lives in the Mariupol in the south-east of the country where he grew up, spent 12 years with the IMF and was chief economist at the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

“Transparency is about the truth,” he says. He also believes that removing Russia from the Swift – Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications – payment system would help the process of putting Russian money at arm’s length from conventional finance, as it did for Iran, which was decoupled from Swift in 2012, partly reconnected in 2016 and then disconnected again in 2018.

“My understanding is that it would be good if that were to happen,” Prof Kirilenko said of possible Swift retribution. “But if the goal is to isolate Russia and Russian financial institutions from the civilised world, yes it will have a very significant impact but will it bring about regime change? It didn’t in Iran.”

Meanwhile, in Mariupol, there is “shelling and a tank attack”.

Out on the streets of Cambridge the mood was a mixture of worry, belligerence and dismay.

The Cambridge University Ukrainian Society announced the King’s Parade event on social media, saying: “In light of yesterdays full-scale Russian invasion into Ukraine, we would like to gather today [February 25] to support all the University of Cambridge students, faculty and staff who are from Ukraine as well as all those touched by the latest acts of Russian aggression against Ukrainians at the University of Cambridge.”

“My cousins ran away from their home to Lugansk,” said one woman. “Now they tell me: ‘20 metres from our house there is fighting.’ With their daughters and grandson, what are they going to do? Please – we must do everything we can to stop this war.”

A Ukrainian-born man said: “I think of Kyiv where I grew up for the first 14 years of my life,” he told a crowd of around 200 people on King’s Parade. “Now imagine this is London. It’s not just Ukraine, this is coming at you wherever you are. There’s a saying: ‘If you appease the bear you don’t save your own skin.’”

A Russian man said: “We are not our government – I’m sorry.”

“Georgia has also suffered a lot,” said the next speaker, a woman, speaking of the Russian invasion in that country in 2008. “Russia’s military aggression must be stopped. In recent years it’s been quite closely related to one person.”

Cue some chanting from the crowd. “Real sanctions now”, “Ban Russia from Swift”.

And some abuse shouted from the crowd in Ukrainian, which was translated as “Russian warship, go **** yourself” – the last words of 13 Ukrainian soldiers before being shelled.

“The world reacted extremely well to Covid,” said Paul Browne, chair of Cambridge for Europe. “We all united. We knew we had to do that to save lives and we can do it again with this. Putin is far more of a threat to our way of life than Covid. Everyone here needs to write to your MPs and say ‘we need a better response’.”

Putin loo roll FINAL Stand With Ukraine (55129618)
Putin loo roll FINAL Stand With Ukraine (55129618)

“Do you really think they will stop at Ukraine and not go on to Poland?” asked the woman following. “I know Europe is preparing to accept refugees but we don’t want to become refugees.”

Someone called Steve says: “I want to remind people of the amount of Russian money in the UK and urge you to write to your MP to say stop accepting Russian money and Russian bribes.”

“Do not be ignorant, do not be silent,” pleaded the final speaker before the singing of the national anthem, which became a raucous heckling of Russia leader, Vladimir Putin. “Stand for democracy, stand for the values we all stand by.”

A Ukrainian soldier investigates debris of a burnt military truck in a street in Kyiv. Picture: Efrem Lukatsky/AP (55132244)
A Ukrainian soldier investigates debris of a burnt military truck in a street in Kyiv. Picture: Efrem Lukatsky/AP (55132244)

On Saturday, a large crowd attended a further Stand with Ukraine event in King’s Parade, Cambridge, and another is planned for Sunday.

On Monday, an ‘Emergency event on the Russian invasion of Ukraine’ will take place at the Babbage Theatre, from 2-3.30pm. Confirmed so far as attending will be:

  • Brendan Simms (chair), director of the Centre for Geopolitics
  • Charles Clarke, former home secretary and co-founder of the Baltic Geopolitics Programme at Cambridge
  • Rory Finnin, associate professor of Ukrainian Studies, University of Cambridge
  • Bridget Kendall, master of Peterhouse and former BBC diplomatic correspondent
  • Edward Stringer, air marshal, director-general UK Defence Academy

You can register to listen to the panel discussion via Eventbrite, or walk in on the day.

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