BORIS Johnson has warned against allowing a “witch hunt” against Russians in the UK.

Johnson was questioned on his personal involvement with Russian media mogul, Evgeny Lebedev, after the Russian was successfully granted a peerage despite concerns raised by the secret service about the country's national security.

Lebedev is the child of oligarch and former KGB agent, Alexander Lebedev, and has been a friend of the Prime Minister for some time. In December 2020, he was installed in the House of Lords as a life peer – after warnings from MI5 and MI6 were dropped.

The warnings were passed to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, who then wrote to Johnson in March of 2020, making him aware of the concerns.

According to the Sunday Times, Johnson brushed off these concerns at the time as "anti-Russianism", putting pressure on the concerns to be dropped, and then met Lebedev at his home two days after the initial rejection. No 10 declined to reveal what was discussed during this meeting.

On Monday, in response to questions about the Prime Minister's relationship with Lord Lebedev during a press conference, Johnson responded: “It is very, very important that this should not turn into a general sense that ‘we’re against Russians – any Russian – living in the UK, any Russian who contributes to UK society should suddenly be under suspicion’ – that suits Putin’s agenda.

“He’s going to want to frame this as a conflict between Russia and the West."

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“This is about the Ukrainian people, their struggle against a murderous attack on their liberty, and a murderous and a violent attack on cities in Ukraine that have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

“We must not play Putin’s game and somehow turn this into a witch hunt against every Russian in the UK.

“It’s absolutely vital we focus on what Putin is doing and we call them out for what he’s doing.”

He also denied intervening to override security concerns about the peerage granted to Lebedev, below.

The National:

“That is simply incorrect,” he told reporters. “It suits Putin’s agenda to try to characterise this as a struggle between the West and Russia.

“It suits his agenda to say that the UK, that we in Nato countries, are anti-Russia, European countries are now anti-Russian.

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“It’s very, very, very important that we get the message over that we’re not anti-Russian, we’re not against Russians. Our quarrel is simply with the regime and the aggression of Vladimir Putin.”

Johnson said it would “obviously be extraordinary” if the security services had deemed Lord Lebedev to be a risk and the Prime Minister had intervened to ensure the peerage was granted, “but that’s not the case”.

During the same conference, he sidestepped a question about whether he met Lord Lebedev in March 2020, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, to discuss the peerage.