Conservative Friends of Russia has been disbanded with “immediate effect” following the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Nicholas Cobb, chairman of the (now) Westminster Russia Forum, wrote to supporters saying that it is “with a great regret and sadness” that the group is to be shut down.
He said: “As the unwarranted, barbaric and unjustified invasion of sovereign Ukraine shows no signs of ending, we once again want to completely, unequivocally and in full condemn this act of aggression.
“We support the people of Ukraine and continue to stand with the people of Russia – this war is not in their name and we will continue to support them in their time of need.”
The group was founded in 2012 by Richard Royal, a communication specialist for Ladbrokes, and has held over 80 events since then.
Despite describing itself as a think tank, no published research exists, and they are likely more akin to a lobbying group.
As Sue Hawley, the director of Spotlight on Corruption, stated in OpenDemocracy:
“‘Friends of’ groups of political parties are alarmingly unregulated and provide a back door for unofficial lobbying, access and paid influence.
“It is high time that these groups were brought out of the shadows, adequately regulated and that the public can have far greater insight into how they operate and who is behind them.”
One of the group’s initial organisers in 2011 was Sergei Nalobin, a diplomat suspected of being a Russian agent. Minister John Whittingdale was the group’s honorary vice-president when it first launched, he attended the opening with then office aide Carrie Symonds, now Carrie Johnson, wife of Prime Minister Johnson.
Another prominent associate of the group was Matthew Elliot, chief executive of the official Vote Leave campaign.
A group trip to Moscow attracted controversy in 2012 when it emerged that the Russian diplomat liaising with Conservative Friends of Russia was the son of a top-ranking Kremlin spy.
Sergey Nalobin once jokingly described himself on Twitter as a “brutal agent of the Putin dictatorship”.