U.K.'s Boris Johnson survived another round of calls for his resignation
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still hanging on to his office, though a report on Johnson's COVID lockdown parties inspired new calls for his resignation yesterday. Meanwhile, the British government is inserting itself squarely in the middle of Russia's potential invasion of Ukraine. It is preparing legislation that targets Russian oligarchs in London. And Boris Johnson is traveling to Ukraine today to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I asked NPR's London correspondent, Frank Langfitt, what Johnson hopes to achieve with that visit.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, I think partly, first, it's symbolic. It's a show of support for Ukraine from a key NATO member. And last night, Johnson said this - he said, quote, "the U.K. will continue to uphold Ukraine's sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it." And he's urging Russia to step back from mass troop deployments on Ukraine's borders we've been discussing. Russia says it has no plans to invade. The U.K. government has also trained about 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers since 2015, and it says it's going to spend 120 million to fight corruption, which is a huge problem in Ukraine, and strengthen the rule of law there.
FADEL: London is a haven for Russian oligarchs and Russian money.
LANGFITT: Yes, it is.
FADEL: How does the British government plan to apply pressure here?
LANGFITT: I think what you may see - the government is talking about the possibility of travel bans and asset seizures. I mean, a lot of Russian oligarchs, as well as other wealthy people around the world, they stash their money in expensive residences here, neighborhoods like Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington. The residences often actually sit dark and empty. And it's given the British capital the nickname Londongrad. Now, Liz Truss - she's the foreign secretary - she says the new legislation will allow the government to target anybody who's providing strategic support to Putin. And this is what she said yesterday in Britain's House of Commons.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LIZ TRUSS: Those in and around the Kremlin will have nowhere to hide.
TRUSS: We will make sure that those who share responsibility for the Kremlin's aggressive and destabilizing action will share in bearing a heavy cost. Their assets in the U.K. will be frozen.
FADEL: Wait a second. We just heard parliamentarians laughing there.
LANGFITT: You did. Exactly.
FADEL: Yeah. Explain.
LANGFITT: Because there's so much skepticism about it.
LANGFITT: I mean, Russian money has been washing around here really since the fall of the Soviet Union. And there are already laws on the books, but enforcement, Leila, has been a really big problem, and that's because London is so reliant on gray money. It helps drive the real estate market here, the high-end real estate market, provides a lot of works for banks in the city of London. It even helps fund soccer clubs. Chatham House - that's the well-known London think tank here - had a report out last month, and the quote was - at the top was "little has been done in practice to prevent kleptocratic wealth and political agendas from entering Britain."
FADEL: Now, we can't talk about Johnson without talking about...
LANGFITT: No (laughter).
FADEL: ...How just yesterday, he survived another round of calls for his resignation following a report on parties his government threw when events like that were banned because of COVID-19. What did the report say?
LANGFITT: Well, the report actually was incredibly thin on details, and that's because the police are investigating 12 of these gatherings, and they're saying, oh, we don't want you to prejudice our investigation, which frankly doesn't make sense to many lawyers here in London. Among these gatherings the prime minister attended - reportedly attended three of them. And the report would only say - really, it cited what it called failures of leadership. We will - I think there'll be more details to come. Opposition lawmakers again demanding Johnson's resignation. The prime minister remained defiant yesterday, refusing to step down. And I think - honestly, having watched this very closely, I think he can hang on for a time - for the time being. And he said yesterday the country needs to focus on the really big issues like Ukraine, which is, of course, Leila, exactly what he's doing today.
FADEL: NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Leila.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.