Tip of the IcebergMore Connections Between Boris Johnson and Russian Influencers Emerge
Turlough Conway investigates a new network of connections with the Prime Minister which lead back, via senior Russian oligarchs, to the alleged agent Joseph Mifsud.
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While Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee report into Russian influence on British public life remains suppressed by the Prime Minister and his advisor Dominic Cummings, Byline Times has uncovered concerning new connections between Boris Johnson and a network of wealthy oligarchs.
After Johnson was elected Mayor of London in 2008, he discontinued the successful Russian Winter Festival which had taken place in London, replacing it instead with a new Russian festival, Maslenitsa.
Johnson argued that the proposal for the new festival – from a UK-registered company called Ensemble Productions – was already supported by Moscow’s city government, the Russian Embassy, the Russian culture charity Pushkin House and the Russian Speaking Community Council (RSCC).
The executive director of Pushkin House was Julian Gallant – a Conservative Party activist and the main shareholder in Ensemble Productions. Meanwhile, the CEO of Ensemble Productions was Olga Balakleets – the culture secretary of the RSCC and the wife of Gallant.
Although the new event was still under the auspices of the Mayor of London’s office at City Hall, Russia would provide the majority of support and funding for it. According to a Freedom of Information request, Johnson annually requested this support from high-ranking Russian officials and instructed them to follow-up with Ensemble Productions directly. This included Russian President Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov – the architect of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election – and Yury Lushkov, the long-term Mayor of Moscow.
In 2013, corporate sponsorship for the Maslentisa Festival appears to have gone directly to Ensemble Productions. That year, the company also helped run the Days of Ukraine Festival in London, which was supported by Boris Johnson and organised by the Firtash Foundation.
Dmitri Firtash, who is under US indictment and awaiting extradition from Austria, is a pro-Putin oligarch and a close supporter of the former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, who was ousted in a popular uprising in 2013, after he backtracked on a pledge to tie the country more closely to Europe than Russia.
Exclusive and Private Club Connections
The CEO of Ensemble Productions, Olga Balakleets, controls several active companies with variants of the name ‘Ensemble Productions’ or ‘Maslenitsa Festival’. In 2016, she set up two companies called ‘Exclusive Club No 5 Ltd’ and ‘Private Club No 5 Ltd’.
A shareholder in Private Club No 5 was Janna Malevskaya, the widow of Anton Malevsky. In a court case against Oleg Deripaska – another powerful Russian oligarch and Putin ally – Malevskaya testified that she and her husband had been close friends with Deripaska since 1995.
One of the other officers of Private Club No 5 was the Swedish-born Stefani Gorbounva, who was also the relationship manager for Ensemble Productions. In 2016, during the EU Referendum campaign, Gorbounova attended a Conservative Party fundraiser arranged by the controlling shareholder in Ensemble Productions. She was seated beside Boris Johnson for the evening and was photographed with him.
A few weeks later, as the Brexit debate was at its height, Johnson’s position on the annexation of Crimea by Russia began to align more closely with the Kremlin. “If you want an example of EU foreign policy-making on the hoof, and the EU’s pretensions to running a defence policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine,” he said.
The Mifsud Connection
A fourth shareholder in Private Club No 5 was Zhanna Safina, who also owned an offshore company with her husband called ‘MTA Securities and Investments’ which was alleged to have received $1.75 million as part of a money laundering scandal around BTA, a Kazakh Bank.
Its former CEO, Mukhtar Ablyazov, was accused of laundering up to £10 billion – much of it in the UK. As revealed recently by Buzzfeed News, dozens of offshore companies that are alleged to have ultimately belonged to Ablyazov were controlled by a Swiss lawyer, Stephan Roh.
Roh became known as the lawyer of Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who – according to early indictments in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller – approached Trump aide George Papadopolous in London to offer “dirt on Hillary”. The FBI’s former director James Comey described Mifsud as a Russian agent. Mifsud has since disappeared.
Stephan Roh’s wife at the time, Olga, runs a fashion company, Rohmir, that has enjoyed multiple contracts with Ensemble Productions. According to a Facebook post, she is now a personal friend of Olga Balakleets who described her last year as her “dear partner in crime”.
In late 2017, just before he went missing over allegations that he was a Russian agent, Mifsud was photographed at a dinner in Reading with Boris Johnson. As exclusively revealed by Byline.com and the Observer, Mifsud had told colleagues he was going to talk to the then Foreign Secretary about Brexit. At the time, Johnson dismissed any allegations of Russian interference in British politics by saying he’d seen “not a sausage” of evidence.
Since then, evidence of Russian interference in British politics has accumulated – both through online influence operations, high-level meetings with the main figures in Leave.EU, and the nerve agent attack on the town of Salisbury.
For Boris Johnson, what seemed like a one-off chance meeting with Mifsud now fits into a wider circle of Russian influence around Britain’s Prime Minister over a period of years.
Beyond the public domain information on substantial donations to the Conservative Party by Russian-born oligarchs, and Johnson’s parties with The Independent and London Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev and his former KGB father, we cannot begin to assess the full impact of foreign influence on British politics until we see the publication of the long-awaited Russia Report.
Even that might be the tip of the iceberg.
Additional reporting by Byline Times Team