The Prime Minister has at best stood by as the Russian President sought to destabilise the West – and at worst facilitated him, reports Adam Bienkov

In the early hours of Thursday morning as Russia launched its war against Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that “the UK and our allies will respond decisively” to the attack.

Yet far from being “decisive” on Russian aggression and interference, Johnson and his predecessors have instead spent years standing by as Vladimir Putin sought to destabilise the West.

Rather than decisively confront the threat from Russia, Johnson, Theresa May and David Cameron welcomed the widening flow of Russian money and influence into the UK with open arms.

In 2011, Cameron expanded the so-called ‘golden visa’ scheme, which allowed Russian oligarchs – and their money – to flood into London.

In the years that followed, Cameron continued to downplay and dismiss concerns that the UK was allowing itself to become a ‘laundromat’ for dirty Russian cash.

Such was the spread of Russian wealth into the UK that some of Cameron’s own ministers ultimately ended up benefiting from it. His Chancellor George Osborne later went to work for Evgeny Lebedev, the son of one Russian oligarch in London, before winning a deal with an investment firm set up by another Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.

Britain’s deep ties to Moscow have become notorious around the world.

As America prepared its package of sanctions against Putin earlier this year, US diplomats warned that any Western attempt to retaliate against the Kremlin in the event of a Ukraine invasion would be badly weakened by the UK’s reliance on Russian cash.

“The fear is that Russian money is so entrenched in London now that the opportunity to use it as leverage against Putin could be lost,” one Washington source told The Times in January.

“Biden is talking about sanctioning Putin himself but that can only be symbolic. Putin doesn’t hold his money abroad, it is all in the kleptocrats’ names and a hell of a lot of it is sitting in houses in Knightsbridge and Belgravia right under your Government’s noses,” the source said.

So deep are the connections that, as the Russian President prepared to invade on Wednesday, Johnson took the time to invite executives from the City of London into Downing Street in an attempt to reassure them about the inevitable impact of any potential sanctions on their businesses.


The Russian Cash Carousel

The Conservative Party too, has became increasingly dependent on money from individuals linked to Russia.

Under Cameron, May and Johnson, Russia-linked donors were given access to senior ministers in exchange for cash. This culminated in the absurd spectacle of Cameron and Boris Johnson auctioning themselves off for a game of tennis with Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former minister to Putin.

Even after the Russian President’s assassins attempted to murder Sergei Skripal on the streets of Salisbury in 2018, the flow of cash continued.

Despite May’s promise of a “full and robust response” to the attack, donations to the Conservative Party from individuals linked to Russia actually increased in the years that followed. Just last week, The Times revealed that Chernukhin, who was also pictured alongside Theresa May and Liz Truss, had bought herself into a special “advisory board” of Conservative donors which meets regularly with the Prime Minister to discuss Government policy.

Johnson’s own connections to wealthy Russians have also been well documented.

In 2020, he overruled officials in order to hand a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, who is the son of a Russian oligarch and former KGB agent. Evgeny Lebedev – whose newspaper the Evening Standard backed Johnson’s re-election campaign for London Mayor – repeatedly hosted Johnson at his Italian villa. The Conservative Party’s close ties to Russian influence led to Johnson repeatedly being photographed standing alongside suspected Russian agents.

Johnson and his predecessors have also stood by as Putin and his operatives have sought to interfere in Western democracy. Despite repeated concerns being raised about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 EU Referendum, Johnson has consistently played down the threat.

Even on Wednesday, as Putin prepared to roll his tanks into Ukraine, Johnson dismissed a call from Green MP Caroline Lucas to clamp down on the problem, telling the House of Commons that “I have seen absolutely no evidence of successful Russian interference in any electoral event”.

One reason why the Prime Minister may not have seen such evidence is that he has refused to look for it. When his Government finally allowed Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to release its report into Russian interference last year, it revealed that the Government had not even bothered to investigate Putin’s attempts to interfere in British democracy.

As the SNP’s Stewart Hosie MP, who sits on the committee, said at the time: “The UK Government have actively avoided looking for evidence that Russia interfered. We were told that they hadn’t seen any evidence, but that is meaningless if they hadn’t looked for it.”

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Johnson’s Flirtation with NATO Enemies

Boris Johnson on Thursday pledged to stand with Ukraine’s allies against Russia, while promising a “massive” retaliatory package of sanctions. However, this is not always the stance he has taken.

In 2016, while campaigning for Brexit, Johnson was branded a “Putin apologist” after appearing to blame the EU for Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Johnson’s alliance with former US President Donald Trump – who this week described Putin‘s actions in Ukraine as “genius” – has also weakened the West in its response to Russia. Rather than allying with our European neighbours, Johnson instead chose to partner with a man who had threatened to withdraw America from NATO.

Addressing the nation in a televised statement on Thursday lunchtime, Johnson said the UK would take a tough response to Russia’s “attack on democracy and freedom in east Europe and around the world” and insisted that “diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure”.

However, the ties between Boris Johnson’s Government, the Conservative Party, the City of London and Russia, means that any response the Prime Minister now takes to Russian aggression in Europe will inevitably be compromised.

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