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Rishi Sunak’s Russian Hypocrisy: How the Conservatives ‘Emboldened’ Vladimir Putin

The Prime Minister’s party took millions of pounds in funding from Russia-linked individuals, while rewarding those who played into Putin’s hands

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Rishi Sunak this week accused his opponents of playing into the hands of Vladimir Putin, saying that Labour leader Keir Starmer’s policies would “embolden” the Russian President.

“The Labour Party and Keir Starmer not matching our investment on defence spending emboldens our adversaries”, he said.

“What do you think Putin thinks when he sees that? That he thinks the West isn’t prepared to make the tough choices to invest in their security?

For Sunak to accuse his opponents of playing into Russia’s hands is an incredibly bold move, given his own party’s long record of doing just that.

Over the past decade the Conservative Party has taken millions of pounds from individuals and businesses with ties to Russia.

Just this week it was revealed that JCB, which is owned by a major Conservative donor, continued to send equipment to Russia for months after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, despite publicly saying that they wouldn’t.

This is not a one off. Over the past decade, Russia-linked donors have repeatedly been given access to senior Conservative ministers after donating to the party. This culminated in the absurd spectacle of former Prime Ministers David 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 former Prime Minister Theresa 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. Later, in 2022, while Sunak was Chancellor, The Times revealed that Chernukhin, who was also pictured alongside 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.

Sunak has also continued to reward those with links to the country. Just two months ago the Prime Minister released a surprise new honours list, which included a knighthood for the Conservative donor Mohamed Mansour, who was a minister to the corrupt military Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and had well-documented business ties to Russia.

Last year hacked emails also revealed that under Sunak’s leadership, the Treasury allowed the boss of Russia’s mercenary army to circumvent UK sanctions and aggressively target a British journalist in the UK courts.

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Sunak himself has his own family ties to the country. The Prime Minister is married to Akshata Murty, daughter of the Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, who founded the technology company Infosys.

Infosys has strong historic links to Russia. In 2004, Sunak’s father-in-law made a personal visit to Infosys’ headquarters in Bangalore where he was photographed shaking hands with him.

The Kremlin reported at the time that Putin was given a tour of the company buildings and asked to sign the “guest of honour book”, in which he wrote: “I congratulate you on your achievements and wish you all future success.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with N R Narayana Murthy (R) chairman of Infosys Technologies during his visit to the corporate headquarters of Infosys in the southern Indian city of Bangalore December 5, 2004. REUTERS/Jagadeesh Nv SD/TW

NR Narayana Murthy retired from his position at the company in 2014. However, according to Infosys’ own annual accounts, his daughter continued to own 0.91% of the company – worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Her use of her non-dom tax status until last year enabled her to protect much of this fortune.

Even after the invasion of Ukraine, Infosys continued to operate out of Moscow, despite insisting that it would cease to do so.

In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a spokesperson for the company promised that they would “urgently” cease all trading in the country, but were still found to be present there some months later.

The company’s website continued to list itself as operating an office in Moscow right up until just last month. Spokespeople for the company have failed to respond to repeated requests by this paper to answer whether they still have any dealings with the country.


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Rather than decisively confront the threat from Russia, successive Conservative prime ministers 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.

Evgeny and Alexander Lebedev and Boris Johnson. Photomontage: PA Images / Alamy

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

When America prepared its package of sanctions against Putin, 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.

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

Even 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”.


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The Russia Report

One reason why he may not have seen such evidence is that he has refused to look for it. When Johnson’s Government finally allowed Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee to release its report into Russian interference, 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.”

Johnson made much of his support for Ukraine while he was Prime Minister. However, this is not always the stance that he took.

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 described Putin‘s actions in Ukraine as “genius” – lso 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, 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 Sunak’s party, the City of London and Russia, means that any response to Russia’s aggression was always going to be compromised from the start.

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