Is Russia interfering in the UK elections?

The issue of security has come to the fore in the days preceding the British general election. This is not only due to the visit of Donald Trump at the London NATO summit, an event that marks the 70 th anniversary of the organisation. What really got the ball rolling was a terrorist attack that took place in Central London, in which three people including the perpetrator were killed and dozens were injured. The attack was used as a vantage point from which both Labour and the Conservative party sought to discredit each other’s security policies.

The debate ostensible reverberated around the release of prisoners who had served prison sentences after being convicted of terror related offences. The assailant at the heart of the London attack being one of many extremists who had been released from prison early, having satisfied parole boards with good behaviour and evidence of adequate levels of de-radicalisation. Johnson accused the Labour leader of being soft on Terror and laying the blame with the Labour government of Blair/ Brown. What his attack line did not consider was how the Conservatives therefore had failed to address these issues during the last nine years.

The week’s final act saw the conservatives shifting the electorate’s attention with new allegations relating to security i.e. that Labour has been “colluding” with a foreign power and thus was undermining both UK sovereignty and democracy. As we have seen since 2016 there appears to be only one international bogey man that seeks to disrupt the “smooth” functioning of Western democracy, namely the Russian Federation with its Machiavellian president Vladimir Putin. The charge this time rests that the presumably classified documents which Labour have presented as evidence that the Conservatives are seeking to sell off the NHS to US firms as part of a post Brexit trade deal were sourced by Russian hackers.

The latest scandal came to light when the American social news aggregation site Reddit confirmed that the leaked documents had originally been placed on their web pages back in October by what it defines as a “suspected campaign from Russia”. Concrete evidence that the Russian Federation is indeed behind this release appears lacking, although similarities have been found with a Facebook campaign that has been dubbed “Sekondary Infektion”, a campaign that equally appears to be vaguely linked to Russian sources. Notable here is the language used,  “Sekondary Infektion” sounds like a rather dramatic name, just out of a spy novel, not something necessarily devised by the evil, but apparently not so subtle Kremlin. WIth its use of the letter K rather than a C as in the correct spelling: Sekondary Infektion gives a foreign feel to the name, one that may work psychologically on the unsuspecting passive news absorber. My supposition is that Russian secret services would prefer to blend in, rather than stand out by using language that clearly identifies themselves as a foreign agent. One must assume alas that the term “Sekondary Infektion” has been adopted by those who really wish to hammer home the foreign origins (or Russian) of those behind the dossier. On another level we could surmise that they have found no genuine name for this alleged campaign and therefore are even less likely to have any inkling about the true nature of those who uploaded the papers to Reddit. As an antidote to naivety or possible complacency we should perhaps emphasise that all links to Russia have been accompanied by the word “suspected”
The accusation that “Russia did it” remains a more than useful tool. It acts not only as a powerful smear against the opposition, one that equates with treachery and collusion with a foreign power, but it is one that could be used as a strategy to deflect and hence protect from the true identity of the person leaking a sensitive document.

In real terms there appears to be no conclusive evidence to suggest that the documents the conservatives are referring to could not have simply been leaked by a disgruntled civil servant. After all dissatisfied bureaucrats have been leaking documents incessantly throughout the course of modern history. To give greater perspective even Snowden and Chelsea Manning came to prominence not via hacking, but through the release of documents to the press. Without seeking to mislead and in order to avoid conjecture it is perhaps fairest to say, that the true source has not been established.

The Conservative attack on Labour is one that has traditionally been the preserve of the right. Throughout the cold war the left had been consistently deemed as a threat to national security, its core beliefs portrayed as at one with universal communism and embodied by the unity of the worlds proletariat, hence the left was portrayed as Moscows fifth column. It is a line that continues to resonate in contemporary politics. In parliament Dominic Raab accused Labour of being irresponsible with regards to security and placing the Labour leader at the heart of his attack, stating that Corbyn had called on the UK to leave NATO. And while Corbyns individual views on the transatlantic alliance do not necessarily converge with those of party policy, it is clear that the conservatives are looking to exploit his personal opposition to NATO. Evidence in this regard is easy to come by. Corbyn has addressed NATO on numerous occasions and more often than not paints the alliance in a negative light. For the sake of brevity we will refer to an address he made at a Labour meeting in 2011. “We in the radical end, the left, of the unions and the Labour Party, have got to be realistic that NATO is a major problem and a major difficulty, and we have to campaign against NATO’s power, its influence and its global reach, because it is a danger to world peace and a danger to world security”, said Corbyn at the summit.

And yet the au courant political environment has seen a reversal of the Russia/Soviet collusion allegations. Not least since the election of Trump have we witnessed the “right” succumbing to its own line of attack and indeed the 2019 UK general election has proven no different. As headlines such as the Guardian’s “The Tories rely on Russian money – that’s why they ignore Russian meddling” or “Boris Johnson blocked report naming Tory donors linked to Kremlin” (Business insider) suggests, these are just a small snapshot of the furore unleashed this time by the left against the Conservative party.

The recriminations seemingly rest on solid ground, being the result of a cross party intelligence and security select committee investigation into the threats posed by Russia in which 9 Russian oligarchs who have made party donations are mentioned. These donations amount to a sum of £498850, and yet fears abound beyond the financial aspects of the report, often concentrating more on Johnson’s personal life and relationship with certain oligarchs and the potential by which this makes him vulnerable to the threats of blackmail. And yet Johnson is not the sole Tory being thrust into the spotlight: the strategist and personal advisor to the prime minister, Dominic Cummings has even had his access to intelligence restricted, due to time he had spent in Russia in the 1990s. That Johnson has blocked the report has further fanned the flames of suspicion.

“We in the radical end, the left, of the unions and the Labour Party, have got to be realistic that NATO is a major problem and a major difficulty, and we have to campaign against NATO’s power, its influence and its global reach, because it is a danger to world peace and a danger to world security”, Jeremy Corbyn

So is there a genuine risk? Russia after all does have its strategic interests. And yet the Tory party has taken contributions from all manner of foreign investors and business men without facing much scrutiny. Is it not possible that there is simply an over-sensitivity to all things Russian? Again a definitive answer may not be forth coming, nonetheless it would appear highly unlikely that the Kremlin is backing both parties in the general election. So given geopolitical diktats which of the two parties would the Russians support? The quote above from the Corbyn speech reveals an answer that runs contrary to expectations. Then Corbyn’s statement with regards to NATO reveals the organisation as a key element of the US post World War II global order. Other elements of this order include the World Bank, the IMF, the EU, to some degree the UN and the general Western led liberal institutions that work to uphold free trade, open markets, the free movement of capital and a general Americanisation of international law. On the other hand for countries such as Russia this global architecture is the embodiment of a “power regime”, a regime whose true nature is less concerned with liberalism than it is with the maintenance of Western hegemony.

Corbyn’s view of NATO therefore offers a view that allows us to interpret the accusatory shift against the right not only in the centripetal European states but in the US itself, then it is the inherent nationalism that for many strategists undermines US primacy. By following the outlined argument, it becomes apparent that the bigger threat irrespective of Corbyn’s personal views (Labour consensus remains pro NATO), remains a party that seeks to deliver Brexit, especially if a hard Brexit were to impact severely on the markets and the already fragile Euro currency.

But while we are on the subject of geopolitical strategy, we must acknowledge that geopolitics is not a game involving one participant. In this respect focusing on Russia as the sole proponent of realist doctrines is overwhelmingly fanciful, just as fanciful is the belief that all other actors have benign intentions. Effectively the anti-Russia rhetoric is not only a distraction, but an entirely skewed presentation of the international arena and one that may mask after all not so benevolent Western desires.

For countries such as Russia this global architecture is the embodiment of a “power regime”, a regime whose true nature is less concerned with liberalism than it is with the maintenance of Western hegemony.

Alas intent to meddle in the UK elections has been expressed even by our most ardent allies. This summer for instance, in a recording leaked to the Washington Post, Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, went against the general direction of the US foreign policy blob when addressing an audience and openly stated his intentions to block the election of Corbyn by “pushing back” against him. “It could be that Mr Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected, it’s possible. You should know, we won’t wait for him to do those things to begin to push back. We will do our level best. It’s too risky and too important and too hard once its already happened” said Pompeo, adding that he saw Corbyn as “somewhat of a negative force”. It was a speech that provoked a Labour backlash. “President Trump and his officials attempts to decide who will be Britain s next prime minister are an entirely unacceptable interference in the UK democracy”, said a spokesman.

An earlier case of foreign interference was unmasked in June 2017 by an Al-Jezeera correspondent who recorded the Israeli embassy employee Shai Masot in conversation with Maria Strizzolo, an aide to the Conservative MP Robert Halfon. In their discussions the pair talked about taking down leading politicians, particular those deemed to be in favour of a Palestinian state or who were adjudged to be hostile to Israel, Johnson also found mention within the discussions. Further recordings of Masot also revealed a plan to set up sock-puppet organisations in order to influence UK policy, a theme consistent with his LinkedIn profile which highlighted his previous work as having founded “several political support groups in the UK to maximise the Israeli “firewall” while his effectiveness to “secure adjustments to legislation” is also underscored.

Masot is also on record making disparaging remarks about the Labour leader, who at the time was embroiled in a leadership battle with Owen Smith. Masot, whose background includes a stint within the Israeli armed forces, described Corbyn as a “crazy leader” before stating that he “would prefer that the party will not stay with Corbyn”. Again Labour were forced to highlight the “improper interference into our democratic politics”, with the shadow secretary for state Emily Thornberry declaring: “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the middle east is extremly disturbing”. The aberrant adventures of Mr Masot provides a logical explanation for the Anti-Semitic scandal that has engulfed the Labour party since the the rise of Corbyn and could quite possibly point to a shadowy conspiracy behind some of the Jewish organisations which have criticised the Labour leader openly.

So to conclude: is there foreign interference in the UK election? Almost certainly. Is Russia involved? Possibly yes, but in order to prove it we will be forced to rely on evidence that is infinitely more powerful then some whimsically made up name that has been leaked into the British public domain. If objectivity is the rational behind our judgements then all the hard evidence concerning foreign interference points not to the Kremlin, but disparate interest groups that are found among our allies. It is time to get real and recognise that Russia is not alone in perusing state interests. It’s time to de-construct the ridiculously simplistic mainstream narrative.

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