One of the recent anti-Russian horror scandals to be manufactured in the United Kingdom concerns the supposed machinations of Russia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, who is accused by Britain’s parliament and media of having “repeated contacts” with an unpleasant British oligarch, the louche and dodgy Arron Banks, who supported the extremist movement that campaigned to get Britain to leave the European Union. He gave twelve millions pounds to the ‘Leave.EU’ organisation to pay for its Brexit crusade.
It was reported that “The Sunday Times, citing emails it received from a journalist who worked with Banks on a book, said Banks and his associate Andy Wigmore had repeated contact with Russian officials both before and after the referendum campaign.” This was supposed to prove to British citizens that Russia supported the vulgar Banks in his efforts to polarise the nation and get it out of the EU. (The accuracy of the newspaper’s reporting can be judged in part by its statement that Banks went to Moscow in February 2016. His passport visas show that he did not make such a visit at that time.)
Reuters tried to counter the hysteria by informing the public that “Britain has said it had not seen evidence of Russian interference in its votes,” but this was only a fleeting example of rationality, because the majority of the British media embraced the notion that there had been sinister meddling in Britain’s boring politics.
A British Conservative Member of Parliament, Damian Collins, who is chairman of the parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, told the BBC that allegations of contact with Russians by Banks was “big news” and “very relevant.” This led him and his committee to “want to understand more to what extent Mr Banks profited from his relationship with the Russian embassy.”
The notion of Brexit appals me, and I regard Banks as the sort of hideous shyster who is only too common (in all senses of the word) in Britain. But in all fairness I have to support his statement that his meetings with Ambassador Yakovenko had nothing to do with influencing Britain’s Brexit voting. Like all his kind, Banks (which is an ironic surname, when you come to think about it, although he does own one), is out to make money and doesn’t care where it comes from. He has the commercial morals of usurious alley cat, and you wouldn’t have him in your house to polish your lavatory seat, but he’s rich, rich, rich, and obviously an influential person. If he was told he might get commercial contacts and make a few millions by speaking with the Pope he’d be on the Vatican’s phone in a New York heartbeat (the shortest measurable time span in the universe).
And of course he did meet with the Ambassador (not sure about the Pope) and had several discussions, and these meetings were promptly quoted by the overexcited British press as evidence that he is an agent of the dark powers of the Kremlin, which government centre has to be but mentioned in the western media to elicit shudders of delicious Cold War horror.
When taxed — which is perhaps an inappropriate word to use in the context of Banks ; let’s use ‘asked’ — about his meetings with the ambassador, Banks said plaintively “I had two boozy lunches with the Russian ambassador and another cup of tea with him. Bite me.” Much as I despise the man Banks for his vulgarity and sleaziness, it has to be pointed out that diplomats of all countries welcome boozy meetings with people whom they consider might tell them interesting things about the country to which they are accredited. And Banks, revolting little creep as he might be, was obviously in a position to give up with the gossip. After all, he had given substantial sums of money to the ruling Conservative Party and dipped many fingers in other political pies. He is just the sort of unprincipled loud-mouthed jerk who can be a gold-mine for journalists and others seeking interesting snippets.
During his appearance in front of the parliament’s committee on 12 June Banks was questioned about his relations with Ambassador Yakovenko. The Guardian reported that “Giles Watling, a Conservative MP on the committee, asked Banks: ‘I’d like to move on to big, scary Russia. I get the point that if the Russian ambassador asks you round for a drink you go, but this relationship went on for quite some time. What were you hoping to get out of it?’ Banks initially replied: ‘A good lunch, and that’s what I got.’ This prompted Watling to ask if there were in fact ‘many good lunches’, to which Banks said: ‘Many good lunches’.”
It is the job of diplomats to make contacts who can drop interesting snippets. Indeed, no diplomat of any country could do his or her job without cultivating people of their host country who might know murky bits and pieces of political policy and intentions.
That’s what the job is all about, and diplomats of all ranks cast their nets wide to make, cultivate and foster contacts with whom they may have nothing in common (we’re back to Banks again) but who might be useful and who might be approached at a later date to comment and even give a vital snippet about a political development. It’s all in the game.
But one point must be made about these meetings and about this funny little Committee that fussed about so dramatically concerning Mr Banks’ supposed “connections to Russia .”
Not one person with knowledge of how the snooping world works would imagine for a moment that the Russian ambassador in London could meet with anyone for a meal without it being recorded by the spooks of Britain’s intelligence services, and those of a host of other nations. It is absurd to believe that there is no interception of every single telephone call made to and from the Russian embassy, or to think that the movements of Ambassador Yakovenko and all his staff are not recorded minute to minute by a battalion of techno-dweebs. The spooks would be well aware that the ambassador was meeting with Banks, and if these chats were of the slightest significance their content would be notified via the little cell in the Prime Minister’s office that deals with such snippets.
But it was left to the propaganda team to do the job and feed the media with the shock-horror titbit about “links with Russia” which encouraged some energetic members of parliament to “investigate” the non-events and generate even more publicity. It was all part of the pattern of psychological operations against Russia, and the fact is that the entire exercise was nothing but an absurd charade is neither here nor there, because it succeeded in its aim of creating more distrust and hatred. There will be more such campaigns, with one of the latest being allegations on the BBC's Today programme on 13 June that Russia is going to wage a cyberwar against Britain. There wasn’t a shred of evidence of any such thing, but truth is irrelevant, and the merry dance of disinformation continues.