Russia tycoon influenced British politics : Premier Race

LONDON – For almost a decade, Alexander Temerko, who forged a career at the top of the Russian arms industry and had connections at the highest levels of the Kremlin, has been an influential figure in British politics. He’s one of the Conservative Party’s major donors. He counts Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to be Britain’s next PM, among his friends.

Temerko, born in what was then Soviet Ukraine, presents himself in public as an entrepreneur who opposes Britain’s departure from the European Union because it’s bad for his UK energy business, and as a dissident critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin

But in more than half a dozen conversations with this reporter, conducted over the past three years as part of the research for a book, he showed a different side of his career and views.

Temerko revealed himself to be a supporter of Johnson’s bid to lead Britain out of the EU, describing the 2016 public vote to leave the bloc as a “revolution against bureaucracy.” He praised senior Russian security officials, including the current and former heads of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, and proudly recalled his past work with Russia’s Defence Ministry.

These new insights into Temerko’s private thinking about Johnson, Brexit, and Russia come as the ruling Conservative Party is choosing its next leader, and as some British MPs are increasingly wary of possible Russian influence over British politics. 

The result of the Conservative Party leadership contest is expected on July 23.

Temerko has gifted more than £1 million to the Conservatives since he gained British citizenship in 2011, electoral finance records show – a significant amount by UK standards.

Johnson is not among the politicians recorded as having received donations from Temerko. But the industrialist has financed some of Johnson’s important allies in parliament, including one of the men running his campaign for the Tory leadership, James Wharton, who also serves as a paid adviser to the UK energy firm where Temerko is a director. 

Temerko spoke warmly about his “friend” Johnson, telling how the two men sometimes call each other “Sasha,” the Russian diminutive for Alexander, which is Johnson’s real first name. He described how, at the beginning of Johnson’s tenure as Foreign Secretary from 2016 to 2018, they would often “plot” late into the evening over a bottle of wine on the balcony of Johnson’s office at parliament in Westminster.

Publicly, industrialist and Conservative Party donor Alexander Temerko presents himself as an opponent of Brexit and a dissident critic of Vladimir Putin. In conversations with this reporter, he’s voiced strong support for Boris Johnson’s bid to lead Britain out of the EU, praised senior Russian intelligence officials and spoken about his past work with the Kremlin.

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