On the 21st of July the Intelligence and Security Committee of the Great Britain revealed the report on the issue of Russia’s meddling in British democratic process. This document was published with a delay of 9 months and was very expected amid the general assumption that Russia interfered Scottish independence vote in 2014 and the EU referendum in 2016. Following the publication of the report Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hastened to claim that the report is “Russophobia in a fake frame,” Russian mass media launched discrediting campaign named “a sensation has not happened” – implying that the document does not prove any fact of Russian meddling.
“Russia promotes disinformation and attempts to influence overseas whether that’s through social media, hack and leak or using its state-owned traditional media, as being widely reported. UK is a clear target.” Indeed, the committee’s report does not give here any evidence of Russian meddling. However, the point is not to convince the public by giving explicit examples, but to admit the scale of the problem and the necessity to pay attention to it since it was seriously underestimated. In addition, the disclosure of classified data (marked *** in the report) could harm the security of the Great Britain.
According to the published report, Russian meddling expressed in attempts “to influence voters before they cast their votes by spreading disinformation and creating discord by amplifying existing differences.” In this regard Russian state media resources RT and Sputnik were mentioned. On the eve of the Brexit vote mentioned news agencies spread negative opinion regarding the European Union and lobbied for Brexit. After the Scottish independence vote, in which 55% of the citizens voted against it, the Russian media began to spread information that the second referendum should be held, because of alleged law violations that happened during the vote. These are absolutely unambiguous attempts to influence public opinion in order to destabilize the situation in the country. This is not the first time when mentioned news media were caught launching disinformation campaigns. For instance, in April 2020, the US Department of State and the European Union External Action Service reported that RT, Sputnik and ZVEZDA spread messages discrediting the EU’s anti-coronavirus approach and improving the image of Russia and China.
Russia is interested in weakening the European Union and NATO, therefore voting and elections in the Member States are an excellent opportunity for it to split the unity through ethnic conflicts. In March 27, North Macedonia joined NATO, the accession was preceded by a naming dispute, a referendum and ratification by Greece. Russia funded the protests opposing the referendum and launched a massive propaganda and disinformation campaigns. “According to a Macedonian counterintelligence briefing from 2017, over the previous nine years the country had been “undergoing strong subversive propaganda and intelligence activity implemented through the Embassy of the RF (Russian Federation),” Bellingcat reported.
One more example of Russian meddling in internal affairs of foreign countries is associated with St.Petersburg troll factory and Russian Concord company – the case against it was dismissed by the US Department of Justice in March 2020. In 2018, the company was charged with the meddling in the US presidential elections that took place two years earlier. The trial was withdrawn by the reason of the absence of defendants during the court sessions, and – more important – amid the “risks to the national security,” connected with the disclosure of the information related to the US methods of prevention of interference in foreign elections during trial sessions.
The report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the Great Britain stressed on the role of Russian money in London – an outlawed funds addressed to increase the influence on British politics. As a rule, beneficiaries of Russian money are PR-companies, charity organizations, lawyers, academic and cultural institutions, former politicians. A lot of Russians who closely collaborate with Putin live in the Great Britain, and, with a help of money, they successfully integrated into British business and social environment. The report specified a number of people and organizations that lobby Russian elite in the Great Britain. Many British politicians work on large Russian companies and receive money from Russian businessmen. Besides, some British enterprises actively invest funds in Russia.
Considering these facts, there are strong reasons behind the outrage of the Intelligence and Security Committee of the Great Britain. It is obvious, that the Brexit and the Scottish independence vote were more advantageous to Russia, while the benefit for the Great Britain itself remains highly questioned.