Chris Bryant accuses Russian officials of ‘smear campaign’

Sir Malcolm Rifkind has resigned as honorary president of the Russian pressure group

Chris Bryant, the former Labour minister and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin’s record on civil rights, last night made accusations relating to a “smear” campaign after an old photo of him in his underwear was posted online.

The picture of Mr Bryant was posted on the website of a pressure group called Conservative Friends of Russia (CFoR), alongside an article attacking his chairmanship of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia.

The photograph was later removed from the website, but it triggered the resignation of the former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, from his position as honorary president of CFoR. Mr Rifkind was quoted last night as saying he had long-standing concerns about the group but that the attack on Mr Bryant was “the last straw.”

Mr Rifkind said that Mr Bryant’s suggestion of links between the group and the Russian Embassy were a “slightly childish counter-accusation”.

“They ran a pretty nasty smear campaign which they chose to couch in a rather puerile way that was verging on the homophobic,” Mr Bryant said. “This is no way to do politics. If a photograph like that had been used in a parliamentary election, the reaction would have been ballistic.”

According to Mr Rifkind, “the charge of homophobia is a smokescreen to divert attention from the real issue that the group was due to be removed from the register because it missed the date of its AGM and that the short notice period makes it difficult for any potential opponents to stand against him.”  

Mr Bryant, who is gay, is convinced that there is a campaign to get him removed from the chairmanship of the All Party Group due to his campaigning in Parliament against civil rights abuses in Russia, including the cases of the businessman Sergei Magnitsky, the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the jailed members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot. “That’s why the Russian government cares about who is the chairman of the All Party group,” he said.

The All-Party group is holding its annual meeting on Monday, when Mr Bryant will stand for re-election. Two years ago, Mr Bryant ousted the previous chairman, the Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, who was subsequently revealed to have been having an affair with a Russian woman, Ekaterina “Katia” Zatuliveter, 39 years his junior. She was threatened with deportation because MI5 suspected her of being a spy, but an appeal tribunal found no evidence to support the accusation.

The article attacking Mr Bryant’s chairmanship was written by Richard Royal, the chairman of CFoR, a professional lobbyist and Conservative Party activist best known as a spokesman for the Ladbrokes chain of betting shops. It was backed up by an email widely circulated by Mr Royal, accusing Mr Bryant of “incompetence.”

Mr Royal’s email also referred to Mr Bryant’s work as a paid columnist for The Independent, which is owned by the Russian father and son, Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev, and his work with the PR company Bell Pottinger, whose clients include the exiled Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky.

CFoR has attracted controversy since it was launched on 21 August, at the London home of the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, where 250 guests were served vodka and shashlik, because of suspicions that it was too close to the Putin government.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all