From the election of Donald Trump, the Brexit campaign, Cambridge Analytica and the Salisbury Skripal poisonings to the infiltration of British democracy and the manipulation of the EU referendum – Russian intelligence agencies have, supposedly, been hard at work. Since 2014, substantial evidence has been collected to support such claims.
This evidence, collated into a report after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, now sits within the Cabinet Office, simply titled ‘Russia’ – a report that should have been published before the General Election yet, has still not seen the public light of day.
The Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee took evidence from all three UK Intelligence Agencies: MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. The report also includes evidence from investigative journalists and independent experts, all of whom are highly critical of the UK and its relationships within Russia. But what threat has and does Russia pose to the UK? This report seeks to answer that question and include assessments of electoral interference and Russian espionage activity on British soil. The report also seeks to uncover the extent to which Russia meddled in the two previous General Elections and the EU referendum.
Boris Johnson is the man who should have already cleared and published the report. So why is the report delayed? What has Johnson got to hide, if anything at all?
If the Russia Report is released, it may discredit the Prime Minister, the current Government and the integrity of this country’s Parliament, by indicating that Russia have been attacking this country’s national sovereignty under our noses for years. The report may include evidence of Russian subversion within the British Government, building close relationships for political manipulation. There are claims that Boris Johnson has always been close to Russian intelligence officials and this claim stems from his days as Foreign Secretary.
The initial claim comes from journalist John Sweeney, reporting that the intelligence services deemed Boris Johnson a national security risk back in 2015. What apparently concerned them was that Johnson’s connections to Russia, combined with his character, meant that he was open to blackmail. As Foreign Secretary, Johnson would frequently attend cocktail parties in an Italian villa owned by Evgeny Lebedev, whose father is an ex-KGB officer. Allegedly on at least one occasion, Johnson left his Metropolitan Police team back in the UK to attend. Bumping shoulders with Russian government personalities with no Police Protection team certainly raises eyebrows.
If the Russia Report is released, it may include evidence of Government complacency in response to the killing of Litvinenko in 2006, the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury 2018, and embarrass certain political parties by exposing how much Russian funding was pumped into recent political campaigns. The details will also bring substance to longstanding claims that the FSB (Russian intelligence agency) are committing crimes in Britain, as reported by investigative journalists Bellingcat under the title ‘GRU Globetrotters: Mission London’.
If the Russia Report is released, it will provide evidence as to how far Russian intelligence agencies have previously infiltrated British politics and swayed voter opinion. Targeted, tailor-made adverts flooding British citizens’ social media feeds were all designed to get you to vote in a particular way, as Channel 4 revealed in their investigation into Cambridge Analytica. How many of those political advertisements were Russian funded or, indeed, Russian-made? If Russia are found to be involved with the EU referendum, this could mean that Russia directly influenced the outcome having planned an operation years in advance. Russia is no stranger to psychological propaganda. This dates back to the days of the KGB during the Cold War.
‘Fighting a war on the battlefield is the most stupid and primitive way of fighting a war. The highest art of warfare is not to fight at all but to subvert anything of value in your enemies’ country. Put white against black, old against young. As long as it disturbs society and cuts the moral fibre of a nation, you are winning.’ Yuri Bezmenov, ex-KGB propagandist.
The UK is spilt into two distinct opinions: Vote Leave or Vote Remain. The role of Russia may have been to amplify Vote Leave narratives and to flood social media with fake stories, ‘Turkey want to bring 10,000 immigrants to the UK – Let’s leave before it’s too late’ and other questionable material. Glaringly fake, yet surprisingly for some, believable. Believable to the extent that such multi-faceted campaigns may just have been responsible for the marginal Leave win.
Downing Street claimed in November 2019 that the report has not been published because it usually takes six weeks to be processed. Nearly four months later, the report remains unpublished. MP Dominic Grieve, Chair of the Intelligence Committee, rebukes the given timeline:
“This is completely untrue. They’re talking about the six week process by which you clear it through the agencies and the Cabinet Office, we’re not talking about this, we’re talking about the final clearance by the Prime Minister and I really get worried when an authoritative voice like Number 10 starts putting out these completely bogus arguments. The earliest the report can be published is April 2020 and the current Government are refusing to publish it and so it may never see the light of day”.
Some commentators say that a new Parliament means setting up a new Intelligence Committee. It is probably only once this has happened that the document can be released. Other MPs have stated that ‘the report may not contain any smoking gun properties at all’. In which case, we shouldn’t be worried about time scale; as of yet, the timing, the withholding of the report and the surrounding rumours, may be nothing more than misguided concern.
Maybe we have nothing to fear, maybe there is no Russian interference. Maybe we voted democratically without influence. Maybe Johnson is just a quirky character and just has some questionable friends for the purposes of democratic bridge-building? Maybe the Government has been standing up to Russia behind closed doors?
Image: Eraldo Peres