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Rishi Sunak Refuses to Join Ukraine in Sanctioning Alexander Lebedev

The UK has taken no action against the Russian oligarch and Boris Johnson associate, despite Ukraine and Canada targeting him for his alleged ties to Putin’s regime, reports Adam Bienkov

Boris Johnson and Alexander Lebedev

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Rishi Sunak has declined to commit to sanctioning the Russian oligarch and former KGB officer Alexander Lebedev, despite both Ukraine and Canada targeting him for his alleged links to Putin’s regime.

The website Tortoise revealed on Wednesday that Lebedev, whose son partly owns the Evening Standard newspaper and was handed a peerage by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been targeted by Ukraine as a “person directly or indirectly controlled by residents of a foreign state or acting in their interests”.

The sanction was imposed by Kyiv last October but has not since been matched by the UK.

Ukraine’s decision to impose sanctions on Lebedev comes after the UK’s fellow ‘Five Eyes’ ally Canada also sanctioned him for allegedly enabling “Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine.” 

When asked on Thursday whether the Prime Minister would commit to joining the UK’s allies in sanctioning Lebedev, a spokesman for Sunak told Byline Times that they would not comment on “speculation” about future sanctions.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office also declined to comment.

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Sunak’s refusal to commit to sanctioning Lebedev comes after a similar refusal by his predecessor Boris Johnson, who had close ties to the Lebedev family.

Lebedev repeatedly hosted Johnson for lavish parties at his Italian villa prior to him becoming Prime Minister.

In 2018, the then Foreign Secretary left his security detail behind in order to attend one such event, held just days after a Nato meeting to discuss Russia’s poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the UK.

Johnson subsequently made Alexander’s son Evgeny a peer in the House of Lords.

The peerage came despite Johnson reportedly initially receiving advice from the UK security services against handing him the honour.

As Byline Times first reported, this advice was changed following a private meeting between Evgeny Lebedev and Johnson, of which no minutes were kept.

Johnson’s Government subsequently blocked the publication of the advice he had received about Lebedev, despite a vote by MPs compelling its release.

A series of documents released to MPs by the Government were heavily redacted and contained no information on the security advice Johnson had received.

Sunak has also previously come under criticism for his family’s links to Russia.

Last year the then Chancellor insisted that his wife’s family business Infosys would quickly move out of Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, the company was still found to be operating in the country some eight months later and Infosys still lists contact details for its Moscow office on its website.

The Johnson-Lebedev Letters: A Back-Channel to Vladimir Putin?

Letters exclusively obtained by Byline Times, between Boris Johnson and Evgeny Lebedev, shed new light on how the son of a Russian oligarch and former KGB officer built such a close relationship with Britain’s Prime Minister

A ‘Different Judgement’

At the time of Canada’s sanctioning of Alexander Lebedev, a spokesman for Johnson told Byline Times that the UK had taken a “different judgement” to its ally Canada about him.

The UK’s refusal to place sanctions on him meant he was free to cut his financial ties with the country, however.

Companies House records show that two days after Canada announced they would be sanctioning Alexander Lebedev he ceased to be a director of Independent Print Limited.

The company is connected to the Independent Newspaper, which is also partly owned by his son Evgeny Lebedev.

Records seen by Byline Times also showed that within days Alexander Lebedev also cut his connections to the Lebedev Foundation charity, which has since been dissolved.

Correspondence revealed by Byline Times last year showed how Evgeny Lebedev built a close relationship with Johnson over the course of a decade.

The letters showed that Lebedev lobbied Johnson to support a new Russian arts festival while he was Mayor of London, which he said had “substantial support from the Russian Government”.

Johnson, who attended dozens of dinners, parties, drinks and meetings with Lebedev during that period also told the newspaper proprietor that he would “thrilled” to secure his support.

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