Posts Tagged ‘CFoR’

March 2013

In Plain Sight: The Kremlin’s London Lobby

World Affairs

Although the US-Russian relationship continues to deteriorate in the face of a vengeful Kremlin ban on American adoptions of Russian orphans, Vladimir Putin is still pursuing a strategy of influencing—and infiltrating—European political establishments. Given the amount of capital that Russia and her billionaire oligarchs have invested in the continent, this policy is as much defensive as it is self-interested. The European Commission’s deadly-serious investigation into Gazprom’s monopolistic practices, the beginning of the end of German Ostpolitik, and the ongoing dispute with Russia over the Syria crisis hint at an imminent confrontation between Moscow and EU countries. And while state-owned media outlets turn out anti-American propaganda to match equivalent policy measures, for the time being, Russia is still very much committed to swaying European opinion by using both transparent economic appeals (especially in the energy sector, the Gazprom case notwithstanding) and also the kind of Le Carré–esque skulduggery that was supposed to have vanished with the Cold War.

One recent episode of Moscow’s see-through machinations involved a London-based lobby group Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR). Launched in August 2012—in the garden of the Russian ambassador to Britain, no less—and shut down in December, CFoR’s brief existence might have gone unnoticed but for two developments. The first was the number of Tory parliamentarians who joined its governance, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Margaret Thatcher’s former foreign minister and the current chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee in the House of Commons. The second was the way CFoR, which presented itself as a “neutral” talk-shop about British-Russian relations, followed slavishly the talking points of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The chairman of CFoR, Richard Royal—a communications specialist at Ladbrokes, the world’s largest retail bookmaker, and a former aide to Tory MPs—even gave an interview to the founder of a notorious neo-Nazi group in Russia in which he spoke about the Caucasus, Russia’s counterterrorism policies, and other matters high on the agenda of any chauvinistic ultranationalist.

Several Tories I spoke to, including one of the MPs formerly attached to the organization, told me they had felt all along that CFoR was little more than a serially embarrassed front for “useful idiots” (his words). Sure enough, the final act of public relations seppuku came on November 23rd when CFoR sent out a press release clumsily attacking Labor MP Chris Bryant, who heads the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Russia in the House of Commons and who’s known for his tough line against the Kremlin. A photo Bryant posted on an online dating site ten years ago showing him in his underpants was leaked to the tabloid press. Without mentioning his hardheadedness on Russia’s lurch toward totalitarianism, CFoR deployed that image in a press release attacking Bryant’s stewardship of the APPG, which was up for renewal the following week. (He handily won reelection.)

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