A man passes a newsagents stand displaying newspapers and magazines central London (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)
The recent invitation of Conservative British MPs to the Russian embassy in London for cocktails has attracted sharp criticism in the British media.
Political infighting in the UK, combined with rising and pervasive anti-Russian sentiment, has led to the demonizing of British politicians who hope to normalize relations between London and Moscow.
The UK-based Conservative Friends of Russia (CFR) recently held a launch party at London’s Russian embassy that was roundly mocked in the British press. The CFR is a political interest group dedicated to “strengthening relations between the British and Russian communities and informing political decision-making within both countries,” according to its website.
Though similar groups exist in the UK, like the Conservative Friends of Israel, recent years have seen the British media launch a torrent of criticism against Moscow and Russian politics.
“Russian ambassador hosts party for Tory group, prompting questions over pro-Kremlin ties,” the Guardian said. “A
bout 250 guests including Tory MPs, peers and Russian diplomats attended the event… at the London residence of Russian envoy Alexander Yakovenko.”
The controversy apparently has more to do with political mudslinging than Pussy Riot, the alleged cause of the controversy – the British Labour Party has seized an opportunity to criticize the Conservative Party.
On August 17, three members of the group Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in prison each for their provocative performance in Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, which a Russian court ruled as being motivated by “religious hatred.”
The British media immediately condemned the CFR following the launch party. Labour MP Denis MacShane went as far as condemning the Tories’ relationship with a “pro-Putin” organization.
Another article in the Guardian slammed British members of the CFR who visited Russia in September on a goodwill trip: “At least four activists from [CFR] took part in the trip in September.” An accompanying photo shows the Tories posing on a red carpet inside the Duma, Russia’s state parliament. The official itinerary describes them as ‘young political leaders from Great Britain.’
“Best of all,” the article said, “a Russian federal cultural agency, Rossotrudnichestvo, picked up the bill for travel, hotel and tickets.”
British lobbyist Richard Royal founded the CFR because “Russia is one of the most important, most fascinating, but also most misunderstood countries on this planet.” Royal pushed back at media claims that the Kremlin paid for the trip, saying the costs “were paid for by myself out of my own pocket,” and that “those involved work on a voluntary basis on the side of full-time jobs.”
The Guardian also reported that the CFR is on the “brink of collapse” after the resignation of Tory MPs Nigel Evans and Robert Buckland, who quit “after the group published a photo of a Labour MP, Chris Bryant, in his underpants.”
Russia and Britain appear to be embroiled in a series of increasingly heated denunciations. This week, the Russian Embassy in London sent a letter to the offices of the Guardian, blasting the British newspaper’s efforts to “frighten people off the Embassy by dusting off the old bogeyman of KGB and FSB.”
The embassy referred the Guardian to the works of John le Carré, a British author of espionage novels, specifically a book titled Secret Pilgrim, “where he explores with lots of authority the nonsense the secret services on both sides of the Cold War divide had engaged in.”
Unfortunately for the state of Russia-UK relations, these tensions are not just a work of fiction, but stem from increasingly negative coverage of Russia in the British press.
Robert Bridge, RT
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