Sadiq Khan: 'Russian refugees are welcome in London' - EXCLUSIVE

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·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
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London mayor Sadiq Khan has said Russian refugees fleeing Vladimir Putin's regime are welcome in the capital. (Nadine Batchelor-Hunt/Yahoo News UK)

London mayor Sadiq Khan has sent a message to Russians fleeing Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime telling them they are welcome in London.

The city has been branded 'Londongrad' in recent years amid accusations that successive governments have welcomed billionaire oligarchs with open arms, leading to 'dirty money' flowing through the capital.

In an interview with Yahoo News UK, Khan said Londoners are "sick to death" of them taking advantage of the capital, and that it's been made "easy peasy" for oligarchs to use homes as "gold bricks".

Read more: Activists stormed a Russian oligarch's mansion in London and unfurled a sign saying the property had been 'liberated'

However, Khan urged Londoners to welcome Russian refugees with open arms, saying it is important to "distinguish Russians from Putin's chums".

Thousands of Russians are reported to have fled their homeland since Putin's invasion of Ukraine as he clamps down on dissidents opposing the war. More than 4,000 have been detained for protesting in Russia since the beginning of the war, with some beaten by police.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JULY 19: (RUSSIA OUT) Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks as billionaire and businessman Roman Abramovich (L) looks on during a meeting with top businessmen while visiting the Sirius education center for gifted children on July 19, 2016 in Sochi, Russia. Vladimir Putin said the latest report on doping among Russian athletes lacked substance and was highly political. The Russian president said officials named in the report will be temporarily suspended. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
London mayor Sadiq Khan said it's important to distinguish ordinary Russians from "chums" of Vladimir Putin like billionaire oligarch, Roman Abramovich. (Getty Images)

Khan believes London should remain open to Russians "brave enough" to oppose Putin's "aggressive actions".

“London is home to many thousands of Russians who have absolutely no involvement with president Putin’s regime and are likely sickened by what they have seen unfolding in their name," the mayor's spokesperson outlined.

Read more: Roman Abramovich Added To UK Sanctions List

“The UK Government must look to protect those brave enough in Russia to stand up against Putin. London should provide a safe haven for those fleeing persecution for standing up against tyrannical regimes.

“London remains open to them and they should not face any repercussions or scapegoating for the aggressive actions of the regime in Moscow.”

Khan also called for transparency on the £1.1bn worth of property invested in London by Russian multibillionaires, and a crackdown on oligarchs' ability to launder vast sums of cash.

“I want to make this as hard as possible for anybody to launder money in London, whether it’s in homes, or whether it’s in businesses," he said.

People participate in a protest against Russian invasion of Ukraine, after President Vladimir Putin authorised a massive military operation, in Saint Petersburg, Russia February 27, 2022. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
People participate in a protest against Russian invasion of Ukraine in Vladimir Putin's hometown of St Petersburg, Russia. (Reuters)
Law enforcement officers escort an elderly artist and activist, Yelena Osipova,  during an anti-war protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg, Russia March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
Law enforcement officers escort elderly artist and activist, Yelena Osipova, away during an anti-war protest in St Petersburg, Russia. (Reuters)

"And so the government’s got to give more resources to the NCA, National Crime Agency. They’ve got to give more resources to the Serious Fraud Office. And they’ve got to toughen up on the regulation.”

Putin's crackdown on Russians opposing his invasion of Ukraine has escalated in recent weeks as the West slaps more and more sanctions on his regime.

Read more: The superyachts (worth £680m) seized from oligarchs as sanctions hit Russians

An economist at the University of Chicago, Konstantin Sonin, estimated that about 200,000 Russians fled just 10 days into Putin's invasion - including to Armenia, Georgia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey.

A video obtained by Reuters earlier this month showed protesters in Russia - some elderly - escorted onto buses by security forces. And on Monday, extraordinary footage emerged appearing to show two Russians with opposing stances on the war - for and against - swiftly bundled away by police as they began talking to a journalist.

A wounded woman leaves after being treated being after a residential building partially collapsed after a shelling in Kyiv on March 18, 2022, as Russian troops try to encircle the Ukrainian capital as part of their slow-moving offensive. - Authorities in Kyiv said one person was killed early today when a downed Russian rocket struck a residential building in the capital's northern suburbs. They said a school and playground were also hit. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
A wounded woman leaves after being treated being after a residential building partially collapsed after a shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Getty Images)
KYIV, UKRAINE - MARCH 17: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image depicts death) A man cries in front of the body of his mother, who died after a projectile hit a house in Kyiv, Ukraine, 17 March 2022. (Photo by Alejandro Martinez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A man cries in front of the body of his mother who died after a projectile hit a house in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Getty Images)

The Kremlin has made it illegal to describe Putin's actions in Ukraine as an "invasion" or a "war" after thousands took to the streets - introducing possible 15-year jail sentences for those that spread what the Russian government sees as "false information".

Read more: Russian generals sent to Ukraine front line 'because troop morale is so low'

The Home Office has told Yahoo News UK that all asylum applications from Russia will be considered on their individual merits in line with immigration rules.

A spokesperson for the prime minster said: “Anybody with a relative in the UK can apply to come here and there’s no cap on that. And on the humanitarian sponsorship route."

Watch: Thousands of Anti-War Protesters Arrested During Marches Across Russia

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