The grim Tory-United Russia alliance is also doing real harm to the very liberals and pro-Western actors within Russia with whom Britain ought to be showing solidarity. This month, PACE introduced a resolution recognizing a years-long survey, newly published by an appointed monitoring committee, into the state of Russia's democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Everything from the Pussy Riot trial to the continued imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky to the state's murder of whistle-blowing attorney Sergei Magnitsky was examined by the committee. The committee's report was adopted with over two-thirds of delegates voting in favor. But every Tory in PACE voted against an amendment, which recommended further year-on-year monitoring of Russia for the issues raised in the initial report, such as the curtailment of civil liberties, the harassment of NGO workers and journalists, a lack of judicial independence, and the continued impunity for state officials culpable for the deaths of pretrial detainees such as Magnitsky and Vera Trifonova, a 53-year-old real estate agent who died after being denied a badly needed medical furlough. The recommendation measure failed to obtain the requisite two-thirds of the vote (it needed 136 "in favor" votes to pass; it received 121), thanks to "against" votes by eight Tory MPs and their co-thinkers from Russia, Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. Given that, in Russia, elections are still rigged, bribes by officials are now listed by the Finance Ministry as non-tax-deductible, slander and libel have been recriminalized, the U.S. Agency for International Development has been expelled, and Internet censorship is being introduced under the pretext of combating child pornography, the need for a follow-up investigation by the monitoring committee is indisputable. Conservatives thus find themselves on the side of authoritarianism and cynicism.
Like U.S. President Barack Obama, Cameron came to the national leadership with a plan for revivifying bilateral relations after a nadir in the mid-2000s. In Britain's case that was 2006, the year of both the "spy rock" incident -- in which British officials were caught red-handed using a hollowed-out rock in a Moscow park as a communications drop site -- and the nuclear assassination of Alexander Litvinenko. (An inquest ordered by his widow, Marina, into his death is under way, and Kenneth Macdonald, who was director of public prosecutions in 2006, has expressed the "gravest suspicions" that the poisoning involved state actors -- yet another bit of Anglo-Russian news CFoR finds unworthy of discussion.)
Cameron's much-touted state visit to Moscow in September 2011 -- a visit that coincided with the NATO intervention in Libya, which Putin opposed -- was, by even low diplomatic standards, a busted flush. Even Putin's attendance at the Olympics in July came and went with no major policy announcement; he and Cameron talked about Syria and then attended a judo match. Cameron evidently raised the Pussy Riot case but found his guest was "not particularly responsive," as the Guardian reported with fine English understatement.
So what's CFoR's long game? The lobby is clearly acting as a helpmeet of Putin's strictly business interests in Britain, and its contrived air of neutrality seems perfectly placed for convincing a new generation of Tories that Russia is little more than Upper Volga with hedge funds. Royal, for instance, does not seem to know that his choice of a promotional vehicle was an infamous neo-Nazi; nor do any of the Facebook followers of CFoR's group page seem much bothered by the Goryachev interview. And why should they? Assassinated dissidents, rampant state corruption, and the steady erosion of hard-won political freedoms simply aren't priorities in London right now. "Russia is a massive economy with a huge amount of natural resources and the potential to invest further afield," Royal told Goryachev. That was before Russia's state-owned oil giant, Rosneft, became the world's largest publicly traded energy company -- by buying out BP's stake in TNK-BP.
With its first-rate tax avoidance system, strict libel laws, good living, and easy access to Moscow (the flight's just four hours long), London was always poised to serve as both a clearinghouse for Kremlin-connected billionaires and a propaganda mill for the attendant influencers who underwrite them. This is why oligarchs and state officials alight in Blighty to go on shopping sprees at Harrods, educate their offspring at elite schools, hobnob with aristocrats, and buy football clubs, medieval castles, and lavish country piles. So long as "Moscow-on-Thames" continues to prosper, lobby groups like Conservative Friends of Russia will do as brisk a trade as the blinis at Mari Vanna.
*UPDATED: And so he is. Sir Malcom resigned on Friday, November 23, from the honorary presidency of CFoR after the lobby published a homophobic attack piece on Chris Bryant MP, the openly gay Labourite parliamentarian who heads the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia. Bryant, who has been denied a visa to travel to Russia, is an outspoken critic of the Putin regime’s human rights abuses. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Sir Malcolm was “very unhappy” with CFoR’s trajectory since its founding and the piece was the “final straw” for him.