Posts Tagged ‘CofR’

November 2012


Foreign Policy

When most people think of British-Russian relations, they imagine Bond films, iron curtains, Cambridge double agents, irradiated dissidents, and billionaire oligarchs who dress like Evelyn Waugh but behave like Tony Soprano and then sue each other in London courts. But there’s another element underwriting this not-so-special relationship.

British elites, elected or otherwise, have grown highly susceptible to the unscrutinized rubles that continue to pour into the boom-or-boom London real estate market and a luxury-service industry catering to wealthy Russians who are as bodyguarded as they are jet-set. This phenomenon has not only imported some of the worst practices of a mafia state across the English Channel, but it has had a deleterious impact on Britain’s domestic politics. And some of the most powerful and well-connected figures of British public life, from the Rothschilds to former prime ministers, have been taken in by it. Most surprising, though, is how the heirs to Margaret Thatcher’s fierce opposition to the Soviets have often been the ones most easily seduced by the Kremlin’s entreaties.

On Aug. 21, a new lobby group called Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR) was launched at the London home of Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to Britain. The launch was attended by some 250 guests, including parliamentarians, Conservative Party members, businessmen, lobbyists, NGO representatives, and even princes. Yakovenko and Member of Parliament John Whittingdale, who chairs the Culture Select Committee in Parliament and is an “honorary vice president” of CFoR, both delivered keynote addresses. The lavish do in the backyard of the Kremlin envoy featured, as the Guardian reported, a “barbecue, drinks and a raffle, with prizes of vodka, champagne and a biography of Vladimir Putin,” and it came just days after the Pussy Riot verdict. It was an open invitation to controversy. If CFoR wanted to portray itself as merely a promoter of “dialogue” between Britain and Russia, it was an odd beginning for a group born looking and sounding a lot like “Tories for Putin.”

CFoR was founded by Richard Royal, a public affairs manager at Ladbrokes, a popular chain of betting parlors in Britain. He also owns his own company, Lionheart Public Affairs, which has no website but shares a registered address with the new pro-Russia lobby group. Responding to the storm of criticism his new project has provoked, Royal took to the Guardian’s website to defend the initiative against what he called “armchair critics on Twitter,” in language you’d expect from a PR professional. “Whether we like it or not,” Royal wrote, “Russia is an influential and essential part of the international community and its importance will only grow over time. We need to stop making decisions based on misconceptions that are decades old, and deal with reality.”

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