Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev on Ukraine sanctions list

Mr Lebedev's son is a member of the upper house of the UK Parliament

The UK government has in the past faced pressure from MPs to include billionaire Alexander Lebedev in its list of people and companies to be punished for their association with the Kremlin. Getty
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Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev has been sanctioned by the Ukrainian government over his links to President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Lebedev, 63, is listed on a database of targeted individuals on a Ukrainian government website.

The former KGB agent was sanctioned by Canada after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but Boris Johnson, who was prime minister of Britain at the time, resisted pressures to follow suit.

The Ukrainian government website refers to Mr Lebedev as a “Russian entrepreneur, public and political figure, writer” who is involved in the “management of logistics companies”.

It also mentions his links to the British media.

He bought The Evening Standard for £1 in 2009 and the following year purchased The Independent for the same sum, later transferring control of the publications to his son Evgeny, now Lord Lebedev.

After being sanctioned by Canada, the elder Mr Lebedev quit his role at a company connected to The Independent.

The decision to sanction Mr Lebedev was made by Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council on October 19, 2020, according to Tortoise Media. It has not been reported until now.

The council’s secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, is understood to have signed off on the decision, which was enforced by a decree from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The list should be shared with the UK government and EU member states, the decree states.

Downing Street has been contacted for comment.

The UK government has in the past faced pressure from MPs to include Mr Lebedev in its list of people and companies to be punished for their association with the Kremlin.

After Ottawa slapped restrictions on the billionaire businessman in May 2022, politicians across the Atlantic called for the UK to follow suit.

The restrictions included a ban on the import of Russian vodka, diamonds and caviar, according to Canadian media.

At the time, Britain’s opposition Labour Party accused the Johnson administration of not being tough enough on people connected to the Russian President.

Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the Conservatives had been “so slow and too soft” in placing restrictions on those linked to Mr Putin and singled out Mr Lebedev as a notable absentee from the UK’s catalogue of sanctions.

“There is now an extremely strong case for Alexander Lebedev to face sanctions from the UK and the government must now urgently look at the evidence,” she said.

Ms Rayner accused Mr Johnson of having “form when it comes to protecting the Lebedevs”.

Last summer, the then-prime minister and Tory leader was criticised after he admitted he had “certainly” met Mr Lebedev while foreign secretary, without officials present. Their meeting took place at an Italian palazzo in April 2018.

The MP’s links to the Lebedevs has long been known.

Mr Johnson made the younger Mr Lebedev a life member of the House of Lords in the British Parliament in 2020. The cross-bench peer has sought to distance himself from the Russian regime and has publicly urged Mr Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

It was a contentious appointment, given that reports suggested Mr Johnson had acted against the advice of British security officials, who warned it posed a national security risk. Mr Johnson denied he had overruled the advice, stating it was “simply incorrect”.

However, his former aide Dominic Cummings claimed he was “in the room” when Mr Johnson was informed of security concerns.

MPs passed a motion last March to force the government to release secret documents about the appointment, but the Cabinet Office only published limited information to comply with the demand, leading to opposition claims of a “cover-up”.

Lord Lebedev has previously said he is not a security risk and his family “has a record of standing up for press freedom in Russia”.

“I am not some agent of Russia,” he wrote in an article for The Evening Standard.

Updated: June 01, 2023, 4:12 PM