Short version of the story: poor timing of the year award goes to Boris Johnson for hosting a huge Russian Maslenitsa (pancake day) festival on the day Russian troops took over Crimea. Lead sponsor of the festivities: Russian state oil corporation Rosneft.

The festival was surrounded with protestors, including crowd of up to 100 people demonstrating against Putin’s support to Bashar Asad, and across the road, a picket with anti-war slogans. At about 3pm, this happened (with dramatic music added later by videographer):

Longer version of the story: When I was first planning to go to Trafalgar Square on Sunday, it was because of the sponsors. Plastered all over the Maslenitsa publicity were the logos of some of Russia’s most notorious corporations. As the #AntiMaslenitsa leaflet distributed on Trafalgar Square yesterday explained,

2014-03-02-14-43-23 sponsorsToday’s Maslenitsa festival is brought to you by Mayor Boris Johnson and:

Rosneft state oil co. responsible for record oil spills and Arctic drilling plans

KazMunayGas* killed 16 workers demanding higher wages and better conditions in Kazakhstan

Dmitry Kiselev, the head of agency Russia Today (consortium of RIA and Voice of Russia) publicly appealed to ‘burn the hearts of gays’

Aeroflot airlines* had the organisers of the first independent pilots’ trade union jailed

RATM Holding initiated armed seizure of factories

Sistema charity is the subsidiary of an tax-dodging investment company

Interros group is owned by oligarch Potanin — the major private investor of the most expensive Olympic games in history

Rossiyskaya Gazeta is the Russian state’s official newspaper

BP* and Shell* have made deals with Russian companies to drill for oil in the Arctic and frack for shale oil

* sponsoring via Ensemble production company

Note that some of the companies on the list did not sponsor the Maslenitsa festival directly, but are sponsors of Ensemble Production. Ensemble describes itself as a “London-based company which specialises in organising and promoting cultural events” which prides itself in “close association” with “Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Pushkin House in London, the Swiss-Russian Cultural Foundation, the Russian-British Cultural Association, the Russian-Arab Business Council, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Greater London Authority, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office and the Administration of the Costa del Sol Region, Spain”.

To me, this quote from Ensemble provides a transparent explanation for why oil corporations sponsor cultural events: they gain the “close association” to special publics like the government departments and trade associations listed. BP, Shell and KazMunaiGas did not get their logos shown on the giant screen by the stage yesterday like Rosneft did. But via Ensemble they can benefit from preferential access to special publics, in this case likely the diplomats and civil servants involved in organising the Russian British Year of Culture in 2014.

Quite what is going to happen to the Year of Culture and diplomatic relations between Russia and the West more broadly following the military conflict in Ukraine right now is anyone’s guess. The shape of European energy politics could change for the worse, with the threat of Russia ramping up prices or reducing supply being used as a convenient prop for the ‘dash for gas‘.

Meanwhile, join us in telling Boris Johnson off for boosting Rosneft’s social license. Watch out for the next ‘Ask Boris‘ Twitter Q&A perhaps…