Boris Johnson has denied he intervened to ensure Russian-born businessman Lord Lebedev was given a peerage.
This weekend, The Sunday Times reported that security services withdrew an assessment that giving Evgeny Lebedev an honour posed a security risk after the prime minister pushed officials to override security concerns.
But speaking to broadcasters on Monday, Mr Johnson dismissed the claim as “simply incorrect”.
Live updates as Putin sets ‘immoral’ condition on humanitarian corridors
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for a senior parliamentary committee to investigate the claim.
Meanwhile, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has written to the prime minister asking that he make available to the Intelligence and Security Committee all “advice and information” he received regarding the appointment of Lord Lebedev.
Lord Lebedev, who is the owner of the Independent and the London Evening Standard newspapers, was awarded a peerage in July 2020.
He took up his seat as Lord Lebedev of Hampton and Siberia the following December, although he has not voted since.
The son of a billionaire Russian banker and former KGB officer, Lord Lebedev came to London aged eight and holds both Russian and British citizenship.
The prime minister 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”.
Mr Johnson then dodged a question about whether he met Lord Lebedev in March 2020 to discuss the peerage.
“That is simply incorrect,” he told reporters when asked whether he intervened to ensure the peerage was awarded to Lord Lebedev.
“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.
“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.”
Read more: Boris Johnson defends UK support for Ukrainian refugees
The PM also warned against allowing a “witch hunt” against Russians in the UK.
Questioned further on Lord Lebedev, he said: “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 in the UK.
“It’s absolutely vital we focus on what Putin is doing and we call them out for what he’s doing.”
Mr Johnson is said to have responded to the advice of security officials warning against Lord Lebedev’s peerage by claiming it was “anti-Russianism”.
Lord Lebedev told The Sunday Times the allegations were incorrect.
In a letter to Mr Putin last week, Lord Lebedev urged the Russian president to “bring this terrible conflict in Ukraine to an end”.
At the weekend, a government spokesperson said: “All individuals nominated for a peerage are done so in recognition of their contribution to society and all peerages are vetted by the House of Lords Appointments Commission”.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission advises the prime minister on whether it has any concerns about a nominee to the House of Lords, but ultimately the PM has the final say of who is awarded a peerage.
The appointments are then formalised by the Queen.