23 July 2020 – American Herald Tribune
By Alan McCloud
The much hyped Russia Report, detailing supposed foreign interference in British democracy has been released. The story is the number one topic in the United Kingdom right now, with new Labour leader Keir Starmer calling for Russian TV network RT to be kicked out of the country, and promising to make this new national security threat top priority.
Written by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the 55-page document makes a number of confusing assertions and contains many well-worn stereotypes, but is particularly thin on evidence, given the media pandemonium over it. Russia, we learn, is a simultaneously “strong” and “weak” country, with a “fundamentally nihilistic” outlook. The committee also allege that Moscow is fuelled by “paranoia,” “believing that Western institutions such as NATO and the EU have a far more aggressive posture towards it than they do in reality.” In fact, the “reality” is that NATO has indeed been creeping steadily towards Russia for decades. Despite promising Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that the organization would never move even “one inch to the east” of Berlin, it now contains not only a number of ex-Eastern bloc nations, but even counts multiple nations of the former USSR as members. Thus, NATO is now directly on the Russian border.
The report offers no new evidence of Russian hacking, meddling or serious interfering, simply noting continually that “there has been widespread public allegations” about Russia’s role in the UK’s European Union referendum, Scotland’s independence vote, and the UK general election. It also points to “credible open source commentary” that Moscow undertook influence operations. This commentary cites Moscow-funded outlets like RT and Sputnik’s generally pro-Brexit stance as equating an attack on democracy.
The first part of the document is so vague that some might wonder why it was written at all. The recommendations section, however, gives a clue. “Given the difficulties inherent in seeking to counter Russian Hostile State Activity, it is essential that the Intelligence Community have the legislative powers and tools they need,” they write, also asking parliament to “consider whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country.” “A new Espionage Act,” they conclude, is vital.
The writers of the document did not have to wait long to get their wish. Today, the government announced that the secret services would indeed be granted new powers as a result. And therein, a cynic might think, lies the utility, and possibly the purpose of the report.
While the extent of Russian interference in British politics is much debated, the role of the country’s own security services in subverting democracy should not be forgotten. In 2017, former head of MI5 Stella Rimington (who Judi Dench’s character in the James Bond movies is based upon) claimed that her organization had constantly spied on the associates of then leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, claiming that they (and by association, Corbyn himself) were attempting to “destroy” democracy. Two years previously, an anonymous general in the British Army announced that if the British people did elect the pacifist socialist Corbyn into Number 10 Downing Street, then there would likely be a military coup.
The extent of Russian interference also pales in comparison to documented American meddling in British affairs. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was recorded telling British Jewish leaders that the US would “do our level best” to prevent Corbyn from ever becoming Prime Minister. “It could be that Mr. Corbyn manages to run the gauntlet and get elected,” he said, “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 it’s already happened.”
President Obama also involved himself heavily in domestic British affairs, sharing a stage with Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, expressing his disapproval at the thought of Scottish independence, backing a “strong and united UK.” Obama also told the UK that it would be “hard to be advantageous” for it to leave the European Union, claiming it would put Britain at the “back of the queue” for trade talks, a statement Boris Johnson described as a “perverse” intervention.
Whatever the role of Moscow in British internal affairs, it is clear that the Russia Report is far from the definitive document some commentators have made it out to be. Often, it bears remembering, threats to democracy come from much closer to home.
*(Top image credit: Alexei Nikolsky/ Sputnik/ Kremlin)