A former KGB officer, Britain’s foreign secretary – and a potential national security breach
7 July 2022
12 July 2022
Why this story?
For four years, Boris Johnson refused to come clean about his trip to see Alexander Lebedev at the KGB officer turned oligarch’s Palazzo Terranova in Umbria, Italy. Johnson made the trip in April 2018, when he was foreign secretary and a few weeks after the Kremlin’s failed attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal in Salisbury. But at last, in front of Parliament’s Liaison Committee on a day when his leadership was crumbling around him, Johnson admitted to the meeting. His admission raises more questions: why did he go without his officials or close protection officers? What did he discuss with Lebedev? Why didn’t he register the meeting with the Foreign Office? And who was the mysterious “spouse, relative or friend” that his hospitality register says he accompanied him? It’s a story that may come to define Johnson’s premiership more than the parties, wallpaper, or sex. Paul Caruana Galizia, reporter and editor
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: It’s Wednesday, 6 July – and we’re at the height of a Westminster psycho drama.
Boris Johnson’s duplicity in office is catching up with him…
Boris Johnson, speaking in the House of Commons: When I said I came to this house and said in all sincerity that the rules and guidance have been followed at all times it was what I believed to be true…
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: … the parties, the wallpaper, the peerages…
Sky news clip: Did you lie at the dispatch box, prime minister?
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: And now, the final straw. A cover-up of alleged sexual assaults by one of his MPs.
C4 News clip: On Friday number 10 said that the prime minister knew no specifics about Chris Pincher’s alleged behaviour when he made him deputy chief whip… today number 10 said the prime minister was aware of reports and speculation about Mr Pincher.”
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: By noon, at Prime Minister’s Questions, it becomes clear that the game is up.
Keir Starmer, PMQs: Anyone quitting now after defending all that has not got a shred of integrity. Is this not the first recorded case of the sinking ship fleeing the rat?
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: But the pressure on Boris Johnson doesn’t stop there.
A few hours later, he’s in front of the Liaison Committee – a group of MPs that gets to question the prime minister once a year. It is terrible timing for Johnson.
Because it turns out to be here – in front of these MPs – that we get a moment, in all the noise, that really matters.
Diana Johnson: Could you just confirm, and I’d appreciate a yes or a no, that you met with the former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev, when you were foreign secretary, without officials, on the 28th April 2018?
Boris Johnson: I’d, i’d have to check…
Diana Johnson MP: Are you having a lapse of memory again?
Boris Johnson: No, but that’s…
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Boris Johnson might find the meeting hard to recall… but I know exactly what the MP is asking him about.
It’s a story I reported last month in my investigation, Londongrad.
A self-inflicted breach in Britain’s national security. The type it hasn’t seen in 50 years.
Boris Johnson met the ex-KGB officer turned oligarch Alexander Lebedev, at Lebedev’s palazzo in Italy. It was soon after the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury in 2018 – back when Johnson was foreign secretary.
He went to the palazzo without his officials or his close protection officers.
And while Boris Johnson was there, Alexander Lebedev tried setting up a direct, unmonitored call between the foreign secretary and the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – to discuss the Skripal case.
I’ve been reporting on Boris Johnson’s relationship with the Lebedev family for months now.
It started with an episode of this podcast, the Slow Newscast, called Lord of Siberia, back in March.
I described how Johnson sent Evgeny Lebedev, Alexander’s son, to the House of Lords…
Evgeny Lebedev: I, Evgeny, Lord Lebedev, do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I’ll be faithful…
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: … against the advice of the security services.
Since then I’ve shown how the Lebedevs used parties, newspapers, and politicians to accelerate their rise to the heart of the British establishment. And how, at every step of the way on their fourteen-year journey, security concerns were brushed aside.
But this meeting with Alexander Lebedev in Italy in April 2018 is something that Boris Johnson has never admitted to.
This isn’t simply about impropriety or bluster. It’s about something else.
Something more concerning.
The foreign secretary secretly met with a man allied to Vladimir Putin, just weeks after the Kremlin conducted a chemical attack in Salisbury.
And then followed it up with cyber-attacks on the Foreign Office.
Chris Steele: That was one of the most serious national security events to have taken place on British soil in recent times. The point is this scenario is one which is extremely, potentially compromising to both Johnson personally, and also the country and its interest. And that’s why we need to get to the bottom of it.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: I’m Paul Caruana Galizia and in this episode of the Slow Newscast, the story that may come to define Boris Johnson’s legacy more than the parties, the wallpaper, or the sex.
Back at the Liaison Committee, a tired-looking Boris Johnson is staring down a semicircle of senior MPs…
Chris Bryant: You know exactly what I’m asking. This is about you – this is all about you in the end. The reason he took liberties is because he knows you take liberties and get away with it.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: This type of scrutiny couldn’t have come on a worse day for the Prime Minister.
When the Labour MP Diana Johnson asks her question about Alexander Lebedev, and that meeting on the 28th of April 2018, it looks like it comes as a surprise to him.
His eyes dart around, and he fumbles for an answer.
The Prime Minister: No. You are asking me a very specific question about a very specific date. I would have to get back to you. I certainly have met the gentleman in question—
Dame Diana Johnson: Without officials?
The Prime Minister: He used to be the proprietor of the London Evening Standard when I was Mayor of London…
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Evgeny, his son, still owns the Evening Standard.
Alexander resigned all his UK directorships only very recently. Because the Canadian government sanctioned him as someone who, it said, “directly enabled Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine and bears responsibility for the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine”.
It’s a characterisation that Alexander Lebedev has denied.
But in the reporting I’ve done, much of it before Canada’s designation, I’ve found that Alexander Lebedev became rich thanks to his KGB past, that he supported Putin’s annexation of Crimea, where he has investments, and that Britain’s security services have long been uneasy about him. So have security services elsewhere.
A report by Italy’s External Intelligence and Security Agency claims that Alexander invested in property with individuals linked to the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta mafia clans — and that he enjoys, in its words, “the favour and friendship of Vladimir Putin”.
And not just Putin’s favour and friendship. But Boris Johnson’s, too.
A few days after one of Johnson’s first lunches with Evgeny Lebedev, the then mayor of London wrote to Evgeny Lebedev, saying he’d be “thrilled” if the Evening Standard and Independent covered some of his mayoral projects. His team, he added, was “all set to make a presentation to Geordie!” – Geordie Greig, the Standard’s editor.
When Evgeny Lebedev agreed, Boris Johnson wrote back with: “Your support and that of the Evening Standard is much appreciated”.
Just eight days before London’s mayoral election in May 2012, the Evening Standard ran a front-page editorial with the headline:
“BORIS JOHNSON – THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR LONDON”.
Boris Johnson was re-elected – narrowly: with 51.5 per cent of the vote.
Boris Johnson: Tomorrow we continue with our work but tonight we will celebrate sensible, cost-effective conservative administration in London over the next 4 years with a non-taxpayer funded libation. Thank you.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: It was in October that year that Boris Johnson made his first visit to Palazzo Terranova, the Lebedevs’ villa nestled in the Umbrian hills.
For the decade that followed, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev cultivated an increasingly close relationship with Boris Johnson. They invited him to their parties in London and Italy where he drank, danced with Evgeny, did karaoke to Abba in a wig, and one time sat near Katie Price, an event I reported on in my series Londongrad…
Paul narrating, Londongrad Ep 4: When, as usual, Evgeny expected his guests to stand up and give a toast, he tried passing over Katie Price. To her enormous credit she stood up. And all the other guests looked down, awkwardly. Katie Price said people usually only wanted one thing from her. She said, you all want to see them, don’t you? Then she lifted her top to expose her breasts and turned to Britain’s foreign secretary and told him: they’re like granite.
Their relationship reached a peak when Boris Johnson gave Evgeny Lebedev a seat for life in the House of Lords. The security services had advised against it because of his father’s KGB past.
Boris Johnson: I’m certainly not going to deny meeting Alexander Lebedev, I certainly have met with…
Diana Johnson: With officials?
Boris Johnson: As far as I remember he used to own the Evening Standard…
Diana Johnson: Yes, but with officials when you were Foreign Secretary. Did you meet him with officials or without?
Boris Johnson: Look, I have certainly met him without officials. As I say, he is a proprietor of a newspaper.
Chair: Perhaps you could write to us with a specific answer to that very specific question.
Boris Johnson: Very happy to.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: But Boris Johnson is still dodging that very specific question.
Because this meeting is different from the other trips he made to Italy. We know almost everything about those parties. They happened in October and have been, by now, reported out.
This trip was in April. It was in April 2018 – just weeks after the Skripal poisonings and when Boris Johnson, as foreign secretary, was meant to be managing relations with the Kremlin.
Boris Johnson, House of Commons: Although he asks a general question about Russia, let me immediately say that there is much speculation about the disturbing incident in Salisbury, where a 66-year-old man, Sergei Skripal, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious outside The Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon. Police, together with partner agencies, are now investigating.
The attack was conducted by Russian military intelligence officials in March 2018. They used Novichok, a military grade nerve agent. They failed to kill their target – Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy – but the trail of poison they left behind later killed a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess.
On Friday, 27th April 2018, Boris Johnson flew to a NATO Foreign Ministers’ summit in Brussels. It was the first meeting of its kind since the Skripal poisonings.
At the meeting, he urged his counterparts to do more to tackle Russia’s malign influence around the world.
And then he flew to Italy, to meet Alexander Lebedev at his Palazzo Terranova. And spent the weekend there.
One source says that Alexander Lebedev wanted to provide a direct, unmonitored line between Boris Johnson and … Sergei Lavrov – Russia’s foreign minister – to discuss the Skripal case.
There are, of course, no formal records of this. But the account is supported by three other people who were each in their own way connected to the Foreign Office.
One says it was representative of Boris Johnson’s “chummy approach to foreign policy.” For Alexander, it was an opportunity to show his value and importance to the Kremlin.
If it had been set up officially from London that kind of call would have been carefully thought-through and closely monitored.
In any case, the call – which Alexander Lebedev has denied setting up – never happened. Boris Johnson drank heavily the night before and overslept.
His visit would end up in the British newspapers, because he was spotted at Perugia airport on the Sunday. No luggage. Crumpled suit. Curved walk. Everyone who saw him immediately assumed he was completely hungover.
At the airport, he was alone. Which is… strange.
In Boris Johnson’s register of hospitality, he declared that he went there with a “spouse, a family member or friend”. So who was it? And why didn’t they return with him?
And why didn’t he log his meeting with Alexander Lebedev in the Foreign Office’s register of ministers’ meetings?
Back at the Liaison Committee, Labour’s Meg Hillier jumps on Boris Johnson’s evasive answer.
Meg Hillier: You said you met him without officials. Presumably that was when you were Mayor of London. When you were Foreign Secretary, did you meet Alexander Lebedev without officials?
Boris Johnson: I think I probably did, but—
Meg Hillier: Probably did?
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: I am watching this live in the Tortoise newsroom, holding my breath, feeling anxious that he may deny it – or that he may finally cave in.
Meg Hillier: As Foreign Secretary?
Boris Johnson: On the occasion you mention, if that was when I was Foreign Secretary, then yes.
Meg Hillier: Without officials?
Boris Johnson: Yes. That makes sense, yes.
Meg Hillier: Did you report to your officials that you had met him?
Boris Johnson: I think I did mention it, yes.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: It is an extraordinary admission. And to me, frankly, a relief.
But the drama doesn’t stop there.
As the questions continue, there’s something that catches my eye.
Chair: And where did you meet him?
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Two men are sitting behind Boris Johnson, looking deeply uncomfortable. One is James Duddridge MP, his parliamentary private secretary. The other is a civil servant. His eyes are closed.
As the Prime Minister starts to answer, the man’s eyes snap open.
He slowly, deliberately, writes a note on a piece of paper, circles it, and passes the paper forward. But not in time to stop the Prime Minister from talking.
Boris Johnson: I met him in Italy, as it happens, but I really, you know—
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: His once secret, undocumented meeting with a former KGB officer is now in the public record.
And my phone starts ringing.
People – myself included – want to know who Boris Johnson went to Italy with, what he discussed with Alexander Lebedev there, what the Foreign Office knew or didn’t know. They want to know whether Britain’s national security was put at risk by its own Foreign Secretary.
So I make some calls.
Peter Ricketts is a former UK national security advisor. He was a diplomat for 40 years and also chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee, a Cabinet Office body that advises ministers on security issues. He’s now in the House of Lords.
Paul: So could we start with the prime minister’s appearance before the liaison committee on Wednesday? Did you watch it?
Peter Ricketts: Yes I watched the part relating to his meeting relating to his meeting with Alexander Lebedev. I thought it was an extraordinary performance overall, um, and that revelation was, um, particularly surprising. And to me rather shocking.
And the fact that it has taken so long to get him to confirm on the record that that happened, um, leaves me amazed really. And so I thought it was a very effective piece of parliamentary scrutiny that confirmed something which had been rumoured, but which is now fully on the record.
Paul: Peter, because you were in… at the foreign offers for so many years, if a foreign secretary came to you and, and suggested a meeting like this, what would your advice have been?
Peter Ricketts: I would’ve said that that was extremely risky. Very dangerous for the minister’s own reputation. And an irresponsible thing to do in that climate of the time. So I would’ve said that I really would very strongly against doing that.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: I asked a former Foreign Secretary’s chief of staff how things would have been handled in their time – a recent Conservative government. Here’s what they told me.
First, the foreign secretary would have never met someone like Alexander Lebedev. Or used a personal line for a call like this. He’d have known that it’s not possible or acceptable to arrange meetings outside official channels and without civil servants present.
If a Foreign Secretary received a request to meet someone like Lebedev, the first thing they’d do is inform their private office, which would then inform the Permanent Secretary and relevant desk at the Foreign Office, and any other agencies that might need to be involved.
The ambassador of the country concerned would also normally be told.
And a civil servant would attend the meeting, even if it were outside the Foreign Office.
That civil servant would write a minute of the meeting that would then be circulated to those who needed to see it.
If it were classed as a “political” meeting, that is a meeting in some other capacity related to politics and not government, then the Foreign Secretary would meet them with a Special Adviser present.
Everything has to be recorded. There should always be witnesses.
How far things have slipped, in just a couple of years.
The day after the Liaison Committee, another Labour MP, Yvette Cooper – the shadow home secretary – tables an urgent question in the House of Commons.
Yvette Cooper: The charges against the prime minister are about not just a lack of integrity but a complete disregard for basic national security and the patriotic interests of the country. Those charges lie not just with him but with all those who have enabled him and covered up for him on this issue.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: This time, Boris Johnson isn’t there to answer for himself. Vicky Ford, a Foreign Office minister, is.
Yvette Cooper: It is bad enough covering up for parties and breaking the law, but covering up over national security is a total disgrace. It puts all our safety and security at risk. It is not just the prime minister but the whole Government who are letting the country down.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: But she doesn’t provide much clarity. In fact, things become more of a mess. Vicky Ford says that the prime minister reported his meetings with Alexander Lebedev to officials as required… but as the Labour MP Chris Bryant points out… that’s not what Boris Johnson said.
If he’d done that, the meeting would have appeared on the transparency records.
Chris Bryant: So, either she has misled us inadvertently today, or the prime minister did so, perhaps more deliberately, previously.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Vicky Ford is forced to clarify.
Vicky Ford: I have just been passed a note: apparently, the Prime Minister says that he thinks he mentioned this meeting to officials.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: It’s not just who was told what… and when… that’s still unclear.
Yvetter Cooper also raises something that’s cropped up in conversations I’ve been having…
Yvette Cooper: The record of Ministers’ interests says that the foreign secretary accepted hospitality in Italy for himself and a guest, but he travelled home alone. Who was that guest? Did that put him in a compromising position?
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: I originally thought that Boris Johnson went alone and that the entry in the register was wrong. Because he returned from that trip alone. But now, I’m really not so sure.
One theory is that he took Carrie Johnson, who was then Carrie Symonds. They had begun seeing each other secretly at least two months before the trip.
If this is the case, then the risk is clear.
A former KGB officer, at a time when relations between Britain and Russia had fallen to their lowest point, hosted the Foreign Secretary and his then lover. A relationship that Boris Johnson had tried to keep hidden but came out into the open a few months later. It hands to a hostile foreign power the potential for blackmail, or at least leverage.
But Carrie Johnson’s PR agent denies that she was present on this trip.
Another persistent rumour is that Boris Johnson was accompanied by another young woman with whom he had another affair.
When I put this to Downing Street, I got a call from Guto Harri, the Prime Minister’s director of communications.
Guto Harri told me that he took this claim to the Prime Minister, who vehemently denies it.
If you publish this, he told me, then the Prime Minister will sue and you can be the first to contribute to his retirement fund. I don’t need to tell you, he continued, how substantial damages will be.
When I asked why they can’t just tell me who was with him, when we know so much about all his relationships and parties anyway, and why this one in particular is so secret, Guto Harri told me: there’s no public interest in who someone got on a flight with.
Let’s not pretend, he said. This is not about the public interest. It’s a voyeuristic obsession with his sex life.
When I said that Boris Johnson was the foreign secretary, Guto Harri said: so what?
I really disagree. I think it matters.
I wouldn’t be interested in Boris Johnson’s complicated personal life if he hadn’t been one of the most senior cabinet ministers, with direct responsibility for handling Russia, at a time when the Kremlin was killing people in Britain.
Chris Steele: Well, yeah, I think, I think the timing of it, of course it comes pretty much immediately after the Skripal attack and absolutely completely after a meeting I think, in NATO to discuss the response to that attack – and that was one of the most serious national security events to have taken place on British soil in recent times.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Chris Steele is a former MI6 officer. He ran the security agency’s Russia desk. I asked him what he thought about Boris Johnson’s meeting with Alexander Lebedev.
Chris Steele: So I think the implications are very serious and I don’t know what was, what transpired at that meeting, and I don’t know whether there was a phone call to Lavrov on the agenda and whether that took place or not.
But that’s not really the point. The point is that this scenario is one, which is extremely, potentially, compromising to both Johnson personally, and also the country and its interest. And that’s why we need to get to the bottom of it
Paul: And, and does this meeting surprise you about, do, do you think it about Johnson? Is it a surprising thing for him to have done?
Chris: But I mean, from our point of view, given the office he was holding at the time. I think that that’s the real concern. It’s a very sensitive office. It’s obviously an office, which determined to quite an extent relations with Russia and other foreign powers. Um, and yeah, we, we, we need to understand exactly what was going on here. This is not an isolated event.
Paul: In your, in your, um, career. Have you ever encountered anything like this?
Chris: No frankly, on any number of counts, but certainly not the Italy scenario as it’s now emerging.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: I asked Peter Ricketts the same question. Had he ever come across anything like this before in his career?
Peter Ricketts: This is unprecedented in my experience. I have known of occasions where foreign ministers go off for a week on holiday to a foreign hotel or a villa and the protection is done by the local security authorities. But I cannot think of an occasion where a foreign secretary, without anyone accompanying him at all, went and had a weekend with someone, uh, yeah, in an influential position with a sensitive security background… at a time of real tension with the country concerned, Russia, uh, you know, at that time.
So I think that combination of circumstances, um, is unprecedented in my experience and for good reason, because it’s for the protection of foreign secretaries that there’s an official or a special advisor with them, so that nobody can give a misleading account of what may or may not have been said.
Paul: So now, now that the meeting has been confirmed by the prime minister himself. What’s what do you think needs to happen now or should happen now? Should there be some kind of inquiry for example, or do we need more clarity from the prime minister himself?
Peter Ricketts: Well, I think the first thing that it would be important to know is whether the prime minister did report the meeting back to foreign office officials and whether there is an official report of that meeting. I mean, beyond that, I think, you know, it’s, uh, those in government now to decide how much further they want to press this. Whether there was any risk of anything having been said there, that ought to be on the public record. But let’s at least establish whether anything is there now. If not then, you know, ideally yes, Mr Johnson would give some fuller account of what it was that he discussed with Mr Lebedev for that meeting.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: Chris Steele goes further.
Paul: What do you think should happen now, now that we do know about the meeting?
Chris: There are some very unorthodox and strange elements to all this, and it needs to be properly investigated by the relevant authorities, which in this case is definitely the security service.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: It’s a view taken by the Labour Party, which is gunning for a full investigation. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, told me that Boris Johnson poses an ongoing threat to national security…
Angela Rayner: If he is found to have breached the national security protocols that are there to keep us all safe, he has no option but to leave his office immediately and face the full consequences of the law. It’s an absolute red line.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: She questioned whether the prime minister took papers with him from NATO to the meeting; whether his phone could have been compromised; and the risk posed by an undeclared and unidentified guest.
Questions that, like so much else, remain unanswered by Boris Johnson and his government.
At the start of this episode, I described the April 2018 meeting between Boris Johnson and Alexander Lebedev as a self-inflicted breach in Britain’s national security. One that the country hasn’t seen in over 50 years.
At a party at the country estate of Lord Astor, in 1961, then British secretary of state for War John Profumo, a young-ish rising Tory, met the 19-year-old dancer Christine Keeler.
While Christine Keeler was involved with the Soviet Union’s military attaché in London, she began an affair with John Profumo.
Archive news clip: At 11am in the House of Commons, Mr John Profumo makes a personal statement. Miss Keeler and I were on friendly terms. There was no impropriety at all in my acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: When it emerged in 1963, John Profumo first lied about it to Parliament.
But was then forced to resign.
Archive news clip: He writes to the prime minister, I misled you and my colleagues in the House. I cannot remain a member of your administration nor the House of Commons.
Paul Caruana-Galizia, narrating: The Prime Minister followed. The government collapsed.
A senior judge conducted a report into the Profumo affair. He found that there had been no security leaks. The judge said John Profumo was only guilty of an “indiscretion”
But no one could doubt his loyalty.
Could we say the same – of Boris Johnson?
Were there leaks? Was he loyal? Was he compromised?
Here’s what we know: in the wake of the Skripal poisonings, Johnson met a former KGB officer, without any officials or security detail, who was trying to provide an unofficial line to the Kremlin.
But, looking back, there are even more questions.
Why did Boris Johnson delay the release of Parliament’s Russia Report, which examined the Kremlin’s malign influence in Britain? Why was he so insistent on giving Evgeny Lebedev, the former KGB officer’s son, a peerage?
Boris Johnson is now, maybe, on his way out.
But these questions will hang over not just him, but Britain – until we get answers.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Slow Newscast. It was reported by me, Paul Caruana Galizia, and produced by Claudia Williams. The editor was Basia Cummings. Sound design is by Studio Klong.
How we got here
I’ve been reporting on Boris Johnson’s relationship with Evgeny and Alexander Lebedev for months now. It started with an episode of the Slow Newscast that we released at the end of February – ‘Lebedev: Lord of Siberia’. When I followed up the reporting for that episode for a series called Londongrad, I learnt about a trip Johnson made to the Lebedevs’ Palazzo Terranova, a villa nestled in the Umbrian hills.
It was in the wake of the Skripal poisonings – when Johnson was foreign secretary and Britain’s relations with Russia had sunk to a new low. I reported that not only had Johnson met with Alexander Lebedev, a former KGB officer allied to Vladimir Putin, there without his close protection officers or civil servants, but that there was a failed attempt to provide Johnson with an unmonitored line to Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. At his scheduled appearance before the Liaison Committee on Wednesday, Johnson finally admitted to the meeting. It was a dramatic moment. But it raises many serious questions, chief among them: did Britain’s own foreign secretary breach the country’s security? Paul Caruana Galizia, reporter and editor
How the Lebedevs partied their way to power
The Lebedevs’ ascent reveals how easy it was for Britain to be bought
Making sense of Londongrad, with Paul Caruana-Galizia
What does the story of the oligarchs say about Britain?
Welcome to Londongrad: why does London still attract so much dirty money?
Is it really such a bad thing if the world’s billionaires want to bring their money into the city?
Lebedev: Lord of Siberia
Door after door in Britain has been opened for Evgeny Lebedev, all the way to the House of Lords. Who has opened them, and why?
Greg Barker: the lord’s work
The days of the Russian oligarch in London are numbered. What fate awaits the enablers – those well-connected people who worked for and provided services to wealthy Russians? This is the story of one of them
Episode 1: The advance party
Britain prides itself on being impregnable; a country which hasn’t been invaded for 1000 years and can’t be bought. The Lebedevs give the lie to all that. They spent a lot, but not a fortune, buying their way into British public life. And they did it in a way which perhaps nobody had tried before: they amused the people who mattered
Episode 2: The Royal Borough of Kensington and Moscow
The oligarchs who made their way to London in the early 2000s and changed it presented themselves as embodiments of the new Russia; members of the global elite, and arms-length beneficiaries of Vladimir Putin’s new order, not slaves to it. Those were the terms on which Britain let them in, but it was mugged
Episode 3: Project Venus
There comes a moment in any successful invasion of a country when you can no longer hide, your plans have to become obvious. It’s a moment of jeopardy but if you can get through it – as Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev did in Britain when they bought first the Evening Standard and later The Independent – then the scale of your ambitions can shift dramatically
Episode 4: Doubling down
Years of warnings about Russia’s intentions had gone unheeded; discounted as scaremongering. But then came the invasion of Crimea, and the end of any doubts. In spite of it all, the Lebedevs’ ascent in London continued, and so did the extraordinary parties
Episode 5: A blind eye
The Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament produced a report into Russian interference in British democracy. Boris Johnson saw it before his general election landslide in 2019. But his government went out of its way to make sure it didn’t see the light of day until long after the election had been fought and won
Episode 6: Lord of the spies
It’s no secret that political patronage can get you a place in the House of Lords. But even people who understand the system well – even peers themselves – were appalled when Boris Johnson decided to extend his patronage to Evgeny Lebedev.