The head of MI6 had expressed security concerns about the prime minister’s close friend. The friend was a Russian oligarch, Evgeny Lebedev. The oligarch had previously defended Vladimir Putin. He had also expressed doubts about the assassination of a Kremlin critic in London – a decade ago. Mr Johnson granted a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev.
Who is Evgeny Lebedev?
As it says in The Times, Evgeny Lebedev is a 41-year-old Russian businessman. He derives his wealth from his father. His father is Alexander Lebedev, and a former KGB spy turned billionaire oligarch with investments in occupied Crimea. Evgeny Lebedev has previously defended Vladimir Putin. He has also raised questions over the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko was a Kremlin critic poisoned with polonium at a London hotel. Lord Lebedev owns British newspapers The Independent and the Evening Standard.
Granting peerage to Evgeny Lebedev
According to a report, as it says in The Telegraph, the head of MI6 had security concerns about the prime minister’s close friend in 2013. Boris Johnson received a warning about granting a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev. Mr Jonson received a warning from British intelligence two years ago. According to a report in the Sunday Times, the head of MI6 held security concerns over the Russian oligarch. They warned Mr Johnson because the oligarch had previously defended Vladimir Putin. The oligarch had also expressed doubt over the murder of a Kremlin critic in London a decade ago.
According to The Times, in March 2020, the House of Lords Appointments Commission wrote to the prime minister. They advised the prime minister against granting Lebedev a lifetime seat in the Lords. The House of Lords Appointments Commission vets peerages. According to the Daily Mail, Mr Lebedev took his seat in December 2020 as Baron Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia.
Keir Starmer’s stance
According to The News, Sir Keir Starmer’s opposition leader expressed alarm over the allegations. He said he had written to the House of Lords Appointment Commission chairman Lord Brew. Starmer had raised concerns over the prime minister’s decision to grant a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev. The Labour leader questioned the judgement of Mr Johnson for nominating Evgeny Lebedev to the House of Lords. Mr Starmer refers to Evgeny Lebedev as ‘someone who has promoted the worst conspiracy theories and defences of Vladimir Putin’. Sir Keir accused the PM of disregarding Lord Lebedev’s ‘serious reservations’ about the security service.
Similarly, in The Telegraph, the Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said he had written Lord Brew. Lord Brew is the House of Lords Appointment Commission chair. Sir Keir wrote to Lord Brew to raise concerns over the Prime Minister’s decision to grant a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev .”
Lord Lebedev’s Reaction
As Tittle Press reports, Lord Lebedev said: “At the moment, many with Russian roots are under scrutiny, including me. Mr Lebedev says, “I understand the reason for this”. “It is inevitable when events of such magnitude occur and the world order as we have known it in recent decades suddenly gets torn up. He adds, “But I am not a security risk to this country, which I love. A long time ago, my father was a foreign intelligence agency of the KGB. But I am not some agent of Russia.” “I may have a Russian name, but that makes me no less a committed or proud British citizen than anyone else in this country of ours. “Being Russian does not automatically make one an enemy of the state. Like any other phobia, we mustn’t descend into Russiaphobia, bigotry or discrimination.” According to The News, Lord Lebedev has also dismissed allegations that he is an ‘agent of Russia. He acknowledged that his father had been a KGB officer, but it was long ago.
According to The Metro, Boris Johnson granted a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian friend ‘despite MI6 warning’. They accuse Boris Johnson of intervening in the decision to grant a Russian-born media mogul a peerage. MI5 and MI6 withdrew their opposition to granting a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev after the prime minister got involved. Speaking to the Sunday Times, a source claimed ‘there was some security concern about the whole situation in March 2020. However, by June 2020, the intelligence agencies changed their idea. They allegedly said they got extra information. Then, they felt it wasn’t as big a threat as they had initially thought.
Similarly, in The Times, the security services withdrew their assessment. Their first assessment was that granting a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian businessman, posed a national security risk. However, they withdrew their assessment after Boris Johnson intervened. The prime minister pushed ahead with the nomination of his friend Evgeny Lebedev even after intelligence officials raised concerns. Sources say Mr Johnson has claimed: “This is anti-Russianism.”
Mr Johnson’s denial of intervention
As it says in The Telegraph, Johnson denied intervening to override security concerns about the peerage granted to Lord Lebedev. He told reporters: “That is simply incorrect… It suits Putin’s agenda to characterise this as a struggle between the West and Russia.”