Russian influence in the UK is the ‘new normal,’ widely anticipated report claims


Adam Smigielski/iStockBy GUY DAVIES, ABC News(LONDON) — A highly-anticipated report by the U.K. Parliament into Russian interference in the country was released on Tuesday, claiming that Russian influence in the U.K. is the “new normal.” The Russia Report, published after months of delay, is the culmination of two years of fact finding by the U.K. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ICS), providing insights on the Salisbury Novichok poisonings, Russian financial influence and social media disinformation. The report said the U.K. was a “top target” for Russian interference. The publication of the report comes a week after security services in the U.S., U.K. and Canada said that Russian hackers had been attempting to hack into global coronavirus vaccine research. The Kremlin has denied the accusations. However, the report will likely disappoint observers who expected the ICS to detail how far Russia interfered in the bitterly contested Brexit Referendum of 2016. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s was accused of withholding the publication of the report until after the election of December 2019, a claim they denied.The Russia Report claims the security threat to Western countries posed by Russia is particularly difficult to manage as their aims are “fundamentally nihilistic.” “Russia seems to see foreign policy as a zero-sum game: any actions it can take which damage the West are fundamentally good for Russia,” the report said.

Overall, the ICS assessed Russia’s long term aim as to be seen as a “great power,” reach a level of global influence similar to the former Soviet Union, and preserve the current structure of leadership. As the result of a recent referendum, the Russian constitution was changed to give President Vladimir Putin the right to potentially remain in power until 2036. The Russia Report described Russian interference in the U.K. as “the new normal,” particularly on a financial level. Many Russians with close links to Putin have been accepted into the country because of their wealth, and integrated into the “business and social scene.” “This level of integration – in ‘Londongrad’ in particular – means that any measures now being taken by the Government are not preventative but rather constitute damage limitation,” the report said.

With British governments having welcomed Russian oligarchs and their money, many have connections at the “highest levels” of British politics. An industry of lawyers, accountants and estate agents help enable this influence, it added.On combatting the widely-reported ways in which Russian state-linked groups have used social media to spread disinformation, the report said “it is the social media companies which hold the key and yet are failing to play their part.”

Russia’s cyber capability is a matter of “grave concern,” it added. The ICS said they had produced a shorter report than usual so as not to share underlying details that could be analysed by the Russian Intelligence Services. In a line critical of the response of British security services to counter Russian meddling, the ICS said it “was not immediately apparent how these various agencies and organisations are co-ordinated and indeed complement each other.” The report concludes that new legislation in required to deal with Russian interference, as well as a stronger and better co-ordinated response from the international community and among British security bodies. “We’ve been clear that Russia must desist from its attacks on the UK & our allies,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted after the report was published. “We will be resolute in defending our country, our democracy & our values from such Hostile State Activity.” The Kremlin was quick to deny that Russia had interfered in any foreign countries. Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the report, saying it had been overhyped and motivated by “Russophobia.” “Sensation didn’t happen. Fake-shaped Russophobia,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, said, according to Interfax, a Russian news agency. Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.