British peers attended Russian ambassador’s party in London | Russia

Two British peers were among 50 people who attended a party organised by the Russian ambassador to the UK at his opulent residence in west London last month, to mark the creation of a Russia independent of the Soviet Union.

Andrei Kelin, the Russian ambassador, spoke at the event where he sought to justify his country’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, while those attending included the Conservative Lord Balfe and cross-bencher Lord Skidelsky.

An account of the event published by the Sunday Times includes photographs of Kelin, who is banned from the UK parliament, addressing an audience of about 50, including Russian embassy staff, foreign diplomats and a number of Britons.

Kelin reportedly said “in order to develop normally, Russia must first deal with significant threats to its security” – a clear reference to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last February aimed at overthrowing the elected government of president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The ambassador also accused Britain of making a “big strategic miscalculation” by engaging in a confrontational approach to Moscow.

The UK, alongside other western nations, has strongly supported Ukraine, providing arms and aid since the start of the war to help Kyiv restore its internationally recognised borders.

Balfe confirmed to the Guardian he was present at the event where, he said, he had perfunctory conversation with the Russian defence attache. The peer said he believed that eventually there would have to be a negotiated settlement in which Ukraine gave up some territory to Russia.

“Ukraine is, to be honest, a mess of a country. It was knocked together by Churchill and Stalin towards the end of world war two,” he said.

He added that he believed “Crimea is most definitely Russian” and that Moscow had legitimate claims on Donetsk and Luhansk, while there should be negotiations around a land corridor to Crimea.

Balfe is a former Labour MEP who defected to the Conservatives in 2002, and has had a history of making statements sympathetic to Russia. During the Skripal poisoning crisis in 2018, Balfe echoed Russia’s calls to inspect the nerve agent used.

Skidelsky, an economist and crossbencher who has been a member of the Conservatives, Labour and the SDP, said he was opposed to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but attended because “I wanted to show my respect and affection for the Russian people on their national day, especially in these circumstances”.

The peer was also a non-executive director of a Russian oil company, Russneft, between 2016 and 2021, and wrote a letter shortly after Moscow’s invasion that condemned the move but also questioned why the west had not given a commitment that Nato would not expand its membership to Ukraine.

The Russian embassy in London has been contacted for comment.

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