The Westminster Russia Forum, previously known as the Conservative Friends of Russia, has quietly changed the hobnobbing events it has planned in London this year to “TBC Subject to Ongoing Conflict in Ukraine”.
The group, whose chair Nicholas Cobb has appeared on the Russian state news channel Russia Today, was planning to hold its annual in-person “multilateral relations conference” in London on 4 March – more than a week after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
But as of 24 February, it began advertising the event at a later date of 7 October 2022, with further information to be announced “in due course as events in Ukraine become clearer”. It did not clarify, however, what “clearer” would mean.
It also slapped the same “TBC” on its summer networking event on 24 June, which gives members the opportunity to “make new friends, contacts and partners!”
“The events if they took place would be designed to debate and foster peace etc, with a speaker or two, there is nothing nefarious here and I have just kept these here as holding events,” Cobb told the New Statesman.
“When the invasion stops at some point we will need to meet and debate this and how to stop this happening again, so I think it is right to have the odd holding event in plan for some months down the line – we have stopped all other activities.”
The organisation originally launched as Conservative Friends of Russia, before rebranding as the non-partisan Westminster Russia Forum in 2012 following resignations from Tory politicians uncomfortable with its political direction and proximity to the Russian authorities.
Its launch party was at the Russian ambassador’s Kensington garden in 2012, and attended by Tory MPs, peers and Russian diplomats. Guests included the then Tory staffer Carrie Symonds (now the Prime Minister’s wife) and senior Conservative politicians such as John Whittingdale.
Its founder, the PR consultant Richard Royal, gave a speech then saying: “I believe that Russia is one of the most important, most fascinating, but also most misunderstood countries on this planet.”
As the Conservative Party is criticised for accepting Russia-linked donations, its associations with Russian lobbying and influence in the Westminster world are coming under further scrutiny.