UK report on Russian interference: Israel unwilling to openly challenge Kremlin

British parliamentary report says Putin used UK-based oligarchs to expand influence, notes Jewish state has also welcomed Russian oligarchs

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on April 4, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/POOL/AFP)

A long-awaited UK parliamentary report on Moscow’s influence in British politics released Tuesday noted that Israel has welcomed Russian oligarchs, and is loath to confront the Kremlin openly.

In a section on international partnerships in the face of Russian interference, the report stated that some countries are pushing back against Moscow, but “others do not share the UK’s concerns about Russia – or even if they do they are not willing to take such an assertive approach towards Russia’s malign activities.”

The report named France as one country that does not publicly condemn the Kremlin, and said that Austria and Italy have appeared to move closer to Moscow.

The only other country mentioned in the section is Israel: “We also note reporting that Israel has welcomed Russian oligarchs and their investment, and has thus far been unwilling to challenge the Kremlin openly.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks as his wife Sara receives flowers from Russian President Vladimir Putin as they meet at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)

The report said the British government should properly investigate any Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum after failing to look into it despite past evidence of Kremlin meddling, saying oligarchs with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin used their wealth for “extending patronage and building influence across a wide sphere of the British establishment.”

“In brief, Russian influence in the UK is ‘the new normal,’ and there are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth,” the report said.

“This level of integration — in ‘Londongrad’ in particular — means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation.”

A woman enters the Russian consulate in London on July 21, 2020 (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

“Londongrad” is widely viewed as a central part of London that is a haven for Russian oligarchs, who invest in luxury properties in prestigious areas.

The report’s release has been delayed for months, leading to accusations from the opposition that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to suppress it.

Israel has highly sensitive relations with Russia, which is deeply involved in the Syrian conflict.

Russia has played a central role, alongside Iran, in preventing the fall of the Assad regime in the civil war, while Israel is seeking to prevent Iran from deepening its military presence across the northern border.

The British report noted that Russia has “also sought to expand its influence in the Middle East,” by exploiting the power vacuum in Syria.

“Russia’s increased links with Iran, and trade initiatives with a range of countries in the Gulf area, complicate the situation further,” the report read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cultivated close ties with Putin, flying frequently to meet with him. In January he said that bilateral ties between Israel and Russia were at an all-time high after Moscow released jailed Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar.

However, many Israeli government officials are deeply worried by Russia’s new status as the region’s chief arbiter, taking the position traditionally held by Washington.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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