Russia report warns of threat from Putin-linked business elites in UK

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Several Putin-linked Russian elites are involved in charitable and political organisations in the UK. Photo: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

The British government must take action to counter the threat posed by Putin-linked members of the country’s Russian business community, several of whom are involved in UK charitable and political organisations, the Intelligence and Security Committee has warned.

In its long-awaited report on the threat posed to the UK by the Kremlin, the parliamentary committee notes that many Russians with “very close” links to the Russian president are “well integrated” in the UK business and social scenes.

“The links of the Russian elite to the UK — especially where this involves business and investment — provide access to UK companies and political figures, and thereby a means for broad Russian influence in the UK,” the report says.

Warning that Russian intelligence and business are “completely intertwined,” the report urges the government to “take the necessary measures to counter the threat and challenge the impunity of Putin-linked elites.”

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The report, produced by the cross-party committee over the course of 18 months, considered material from the UK’s intelligence services, as well as evidence from independent experts.

Though the report was completed in October 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson refused to approve its publication before December’s general election.

The committee said it had to question whether the UK government “took its eye off the ball,” arguing that it had “badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat.”

In particular, the report lambasts the government for failing to conduct an assessment of Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 Brexit referendum.

“Russia poses a tough intelligence challenge and our intelligence agencies must have the tools they need to tackle it,” the report says, calling for new legislation to tackle foreign spies in the UK.

The UK has been viewed as a “particularly favourable destination” for Russian oligarchs and their money, the report warns.

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People who manage and lobby for the Russian elite in the UK — lawyers, accountants, estate agents, and PR professionals — “have played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in the extension of Russian influence which is often linked to promoting the nefarious interests of the Russian state,” it adds.

The extent of the Russian influence in the UK means that any government countermeasures would constitute “damage limitation,” according to the committee.

The report advises that several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are involved in UK-based charitable and political organisations, have donated to political parties, and have a public profile “which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.”

The committee also points to Russia’s cyber capability and its willingness to deploy it in a malicious capacity, calling it a “grave concern” and warning that it poses “an immediate and urgent threat” to the UK’s national security.