The Russia Conundrum: Can a Critic of Putin be Inadvertently Serving his Interests?
Boris Johnson’s friend Aleksandr Temerko is one of a number of wealthy London-based Russians who, while opposing Vladimir Putin, are linked to organisations that are potentially useful to the Kremlin dictator.
In 2005, Mikhail Khodorkovsky – who until 2003 had been one of the richest men in Russia – sat staring through the bars of a cage in a Russian court like a circus tiger.
His Yukos oil firm had been seized by the Russian Government and broken up, and he was accused, implausibly, of ordering several murders. Alexander Temerko, the vice president of Yukos, fled to the UK that year to avoid the loss of his liberty and perhaps his life.
Fourteen years later, Temerko has risen through the ranks of British society. He was a regular confidante of Boris Johnson when, as Foreign Secretary, he was plotting to overthrow the then Prime Minister Theresa May. As a British citizen and a member of the Leaders’ Group of wealthy Tory donors, he has made no secret of his support for the Conservative Party because, as his legal representatives told Byline Times, of his “unequivocal support for the free market”.
Temerko is not only a friend of the current British Prime Minister, he’s also a public foe of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In 2014, while Russia’s tanks trundled into Ukrainian territory, he called on the West to arm Ukraine. In November 2019, Temerko called for the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee report on Russia to be published. His legal representatives told Byline Times that he has “no ties with any intelligence services”.
Yet, despite these public connections, he is linked to a web of pro-Kremlin connections reaching from Russian spooks to the heart of the UK. And, rather strangely, the people and projects he supports arguably oppose the causes he champions.
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Temerko sits on the advisory council of the British think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the director of which, Mark Littlewood, appeared at events organised by the Westminster Russia Forum (WRF) in 2014 and 2018 calling for the sanctions imposed on Russia after it attacked Ukraine in 2014 to be lifted.
The Westminster Russia Forum was initially launched as the Conservative Friends of Russia in 2012 by Sergei Nalobin, a probable Russian spy.
The Westminster Russia Forum’s links to Russian intelligence probably extend beyond this known agent. Its current director Nicholas Cobb runs a boutique PR agency for the Russian energy sector with high-level contacts in the Russian Government. Russia quite routinely uses trans-national oligarchic and business ties curated by intelligence to further its aims abroad.
The WRF reaches into the heart of the Tories and the shadowy lobbies linked to Brexit. One of its founders, Matthew Elliot, also established the TaxPayers’ Alliance and was the chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU Referendum.
Temerko is a former Soviet official who will know more about Russian intelligence ops than the ‘capitalist lackeys’ of the IEA who were once his foes. Didn’t he advise the IEA about the risks of working with a Russian intelligence outfit?
Although Temerko is supposedly pro-EU, and has posted photographs of himself at a Remain march, the IEA is aligned with Vote Leave. The launch of its 2018 report on Britain’s post-Brexit opportunities was graced by Jacob Rees Mogg and David Davies. The organisation’s social media manager is Darren Grimes, the founder of Vote Leave offshoot BeLeave.
Littlewood argues that post-Brexit Britain will enjoy enhanced opportunities for trade with Russia, blithely ignoring the malevolence of a state that commits murders across Europe.
Is Temerko a supposed Remainer advising the IEA about the benefits of staying in the EU? Is he warning Littlewood against a country which he apparently fled to save himself?
Temerko’s efforts to help Ukraine are arguably counterproductive. In 2015, he suggested in a Financial Times article that Ukraine could receive Syrian refugees. Ukraine was dealing with an internal refugee crisis, caused by Russia’s assault, that had resulted in two million displaced citizens.
Temerko argued that Ukraine would have been happy to help its ‘European partners’ and offered his services as a negotiator. But an apparently fake story to the effect that Ukraine was opening refugee camps for Syrians was circulated in 2017 in a thankfully futile effort to inflame racism.
Meanwhile, what does Temerko’s position as a prominent donor to the Conservative Party mean for Britain? He is one of several oligarchs linked to Russia who present themselves as foes of Putin while acting perhaps inadvertently in ways that benefit the Kremlin autocrat.
For all his public positions, Temerko’s support of pro-Brexit projects and politicians suit Putin’s long-term strategy to weaken the EU.
Meanwhile, the true extent of Russian influence has yet to be fully exposed thanks to Boris Johnson’s blocking of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report. Many Brits looking at this mess might join the former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski who asked, with reference to alleged Russian activity in the Brexit vote, where the f**k was MI5? We might ask the same about MI6, whose agent Christopher Steele helped blow open the Trump-Russia scandal.
What can we do if the politicians who oversee the security services, which are meant to protect British society against subversion, are themselves compromised?