Boris Johnson’s dishonesty and two-faced approach to Russia is destroying the UK’s credibility on the world stage, writes Adam Bienkov

Boris Johnson was forced on Monday to cancel a planned phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to deal with the fallout from Sue Gray’s report on illegal parties in Downing Street.

The call had originally been arranged in order for the Prime Minister to warn the President to “step back from the brink” in Ukraine. In what was seen as a rebuff to Johnson’s attempt to become a diplomatic player in the crisis, the Kremlin refused to reschedule the call on Tuesday.

So instead of a showdown with Putin, Johnson spent his afternoon heaping even more embarrassment on his Government by making a false and defamatory allegation against Labour leader Keir Starmer.

The cancelled call with Putin came ahead of a planned visit by Johnson to Ukraine on Tuesday.

However, even this part of Johnson’s plans had to be scaled back after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss caught COVID-19.

The chaos of Johnson’s latest international intervention is indicative of the wider growing irrelevance of the UK on the world stage under Johnson.

Endless Brexit renegotiations, coupled with Johnson’s role in the Downing Street party scandal, have created a situation where the UK Prime Minister, and by extension, the country he leads, is increasingly opened to international ridicule.

Shorn of the UK’s European alliances and rudderless at home, few observers expect Johnson’s Government to make any meaningful impact on the Ukraine crisis.

As the former Chief of the General Staff Lord Richard Dannatt commented on Monday, Johnson is increasingly seen by other world leaders as “a man with a time bomb sitting under him”.

He added that: “We’ve got to sort out the leadership of this country so that we can play our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, all the things that the UK stands for, in an unequivocal, clear way with a Government of integrity and one that people can respect.”

‘Respect’ and ‘integrity’ are not words that readily sprang to mind while watching the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Monday.

However, it was clear that the Prime Minister is willing to do or say anything in order to cling to his job.

One of Johnson’s main tactics is to use the Ukraine crisis as a justification for remaining in Downing Street. However, not all Conservative MPs appear to be convinced by this.

The Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale told Sky News on Monday: “We are being governed by someone that Sue Gray has described as having ‘weak leadership’. Mr Putin does not recognise weak leadership”.


Johnson’s credibility on the issue has also been undermined by his own previous comments and actions on Russia.

In 2016 Johnson was accused of being an apologist for Putin after seeking to blame the European Union for Russian aggression towards Ukraine. He was also criticised around for praising Putin’s “ruthless clarity” in Syria, while urging the West to forge closer ties with the President.

And while the Foreign Secretary this week insisted the UK would clamp down on illicit Russian finance in the UK, Johnson’s Conservative Party has a record of seeking to cover up its own links to the country.

As figures compiled last year show, Johnson’s party accepted £2 million from individuals linked to Russia since becoming Prime Minister, with a quarter of his own Cabinet receiving donations from them.

And far from seeking to reverse this situation, Johnson has instead gone to extraordinary lengths to cover it up.

In 2017, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee began investigating the issue of Russian interference in UK elections and the Brexit referendum.

The committee completed their report way back in March 2019. However, Johnson blocked it from being released in advance of the general election.

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At the time it was reported that he had done so due to the “embarrassing” links the Committee had discovered between the Russian secret service and donors to the Conservative party.

When publicly challenged about this in November 2019, Johnson dismissed all concerns about Russian interference in the UK’s democratic processes as “complete Bermuda Triangle stuff”.

His denial came despite the Conservative party accepting £200,000 from the wife of the former Russian Finance Minister, just days before.

The report continued to gather dust in Downing Street for months after the election was over.

In a last-ditch attempt to neuter it, Johnson then tried and failed to install his ally Chris Grayling as the Committee’s Chairman. When the Committee rejected this and instead elected the Conservative MP Ivan Lewis, Johnson removed the party whip from Lewis in anger.

By the time the report finally emerged, much of its contents had been redacted.

However, it did reveal that the UK Government had failed to even look for Russian interference in the UK’s democratic processes. Far from clamping down on Russian interference in the UK, Johnson and his predecessors had been determined to look the other way.

The Prime Minister’s own personal links to Russia have also come under repeated scrutiny. In 2020 he handed a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, who is the son of a Russian oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev. The peerage came after Johnson repeatedly accepted free trips to Evgeny’s Italian villa. As Byline Times has previously documented, a report in an Italian newspaper suggests that Johnson shook off his accompanying police protection officers in order to attend what were described as “X-rated” parties at the villa.

Johnson is also suspected of having been targeted by the Russian intelligence services. In 2017 a photograph emerged of him meeting Joseph Mifsud, who has been tied to Putin and investigations into links between Donald Trump and Russia. Johnson was also photographed with the suspected Russian spy Sergei Nalobin, who described Johnson as “a good friend”.


The UK has Lost Credibility with Foes and Friends

None of this would matter if Johnson’s own personal credibility was not in doubt. However, his repeated and very public dishonesty over the Downing Street parties scandal is rapidly destroying trust in Johnson’s Government both at home and abroad.

An opinion poll conducted in the wake of Sue Gray’s report on Monday found that 83% of British people believe he broke lockdown rules with 75% saying he is not telling the truth on the issue.

Johnson and his supporters have tried in recent days to argue that it is time to move on from the scandal onto issues that more concern the British people.

However, while the scandal is likely not the number one concern for most people in the UK it is indicative of a far bigger problem for Johnson and the country he leads.

The obvious question the scandal raises is that if the Prime Minister feels so comfortable lying about an issue like this, then what else is he lying about?

And if the British public cant trust him to be straight about parties in Downing Street, why should the rest of the world trust him on anything else?

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