And, Mr Cameron's recent suggestion that France retracts its sale of two Mistral-class warships to Russia has not gone down well.

The contract, worth £1 billion, seems likely to go ahead. Jean-Cristophe Cambadelis, head of France’s governing Socialist Party, was yesterday firm in his response to Cameron’s orders:

“Hollande is not backing down…this is false debate led by hypocrites. When you see how many Russian oligarchs have sought refuge in London, David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own backyard.”

And in Britain, Labour MP Chris Bryant - vice-chairman of Parliament’s all-party group on Russia - has led calls for the Conservatives to be more transparent about donations from wealthy Russians. He warned Mr Cameron that he must allow no appearance of conflicting interest, but a cross-party group of MPs today released a report indicating that Britain is still exporting arms to Russia. The report is likely to heap further embarrassment on Cameron, who had stated as recently as Monday that Britain has stopped all military sales to Russia. It found that, despite the government announcing in March that it would prevent these arms sales, only 34 of 285 outstanding licenses had been suspended or revoked. This does not mean that any British sales of arms to Russia are ongoing, but the as-yet unwithdrawn licenses cover items thought to be worth in excess of £132 million.

Dr Richard Connolly is co-director of the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Birmingham. He explained the extent to which differing European attitudes towards Russia were being shaped by commercial interests:

“If you want to look at the countries in favour of having warmer relations with Russia you can usually tell by the level of trade and investment links. If you look at the countries in Europe that have the closest trade relations – Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, Austria as well – they have a stake in good relations with Russia.”

Dr Connolly also speculated that there were likely more realist motives underlying the British arms license action:

“I say this purely speculatively, but I would imagine that the revoked licenses would have been particularly high profile or clear cases where they’d say ‘it’s not going to look good if we are seen selling these to Russia.’ The other ones are likely to be components or such like where they can argue that they’re not that important.

"I do broadly agree with the sentiment that there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy here – the amount of figures of outstanding contracts is reported to be about £160 million pounds, not an insignificant sum. And the idea that we are in any way morally superior to the French seems nonsense to me, particularly when we export our arms to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain.”

Cameron 'having his caviar and eating it'

This latest confusion comes at a time when Mr Cameron and his Conservative party are already facing scrutiny over their stance on Russia.

Labour are calling on the Conservatives to return a £160,000 donation from the wife of former Russian finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin. She pledged the money in exchange for taking part in a tennis match with the prime minister and London Mayor Boris Johnson. A leaked guest-list of the party’s summer ball revealed a number of wealthy Russians in attendance, and records from the Electoral Commission appear to indicate the Conservatives have received more than £900,000 worth of funds from Russian-linked donors. While Conservative sources are understood to have played down suggestions the winning auction bid be returned, Boris Johnson has threatened to pull out of the proposed tennis match if the opponent has close Moscow ties. Labour MP Chris Bryant, vice-chairman of Parliament’s all-party group on Russia, has called the prime minister “two-faced” in his acceptance of Russian donations, and warned that the saga smacks of Cameron having his caviar and eating it.

Andre Walker, the UK political correspondent for Breitbart news network, laid out the challenges facing Cameron as a result of his position:

“This is hugely embarrassing for David Cameron. In a week where he’s complained about Vladimir Putin’s activities, we hear that he also accepted a £160,000 donation from the former deputy finance minister in Russia. People are going to ask, legitimately, where that money came from, and what influence was gained by donating it. Clearly there is going to be an amount of point scoring but nonetheless the Conservatives always have a difficulty when it comes to fundraising now, effectively, they are very reliant on sugar daddies.”

We can expect clarification of the government’s position regarding the sale of arms to Russia imminently. Conservative MP, Sir John Stanley, chairman of the arms control committees, has already contacted the new foreign secretary demanding an explanation as to why so few licenses have been crossed off.

There seems, though, little possibility of Tory respite regarding their ties to wealthy Russian figures any time soon.

Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft took to Twitter on Monday to ask whether the party should not consider suspending donations from Russian-owned companies. It remains as yet unclear whether the planned tennis match will go ahead.

It’s a tender Conservative scab, though, for the Labour party to pick at, as Cameron’s European relations take a strain - once again - over the Russian question.
(VoR)