Politics

Simply How A lot Affect Does Russia Truly Have Over The UK?

No.10 is facing a growing pile of questions about the real extent of Russian influence in the UK, just at the moment when the West needs to act firmly over the Ukraine crisis.

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two regions of Ukraine this week as part of a thinly-veiled invasion of its neighboring country. This triggered Western leaders to implement sanctions against Moscow in a bid to de-escalate tensions and protect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

While Germany has shelved plans for the £8 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – significant infrastructure which would channel gas from Russia to Europe – the UK has only sanctioned five Russian banks and three “high net wealth” individuals.

No.10′s critics are now asking why Boris Johnson’s government isn’t doing more like the rest of the West, leading some to conclude that Russia is too entwined with Downing Street.

Here’s a breakdown of all the recent occasions Russia may have crossed into British politics.

Donations to the Tory Party

The Conservatives have received close to £2 million in donations from people connected to Russia since Johnson became the prime minister back in 2019.

These funds helped senior Tories such as deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and chancellor Rishi Sunak, as well as five other MPs who are part of Johnson’s cabinet.

Women in the Conservative Party were also pictured with a Russian donor Lubov Chernukhin in 2018 – she’s the wife of a Russian oligarch who used to be a minister under Putin.

Both therefore have strong links to the Kremlin. And yet, Chernukhin is now the largest female donor in recent British political history.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss defended her party’s association with such donors by claiming on Wednesday: “Everyone who donates is on the British electoral register, they are fully vetted before making those donations.”

General elections and referendums

A report from the intelligence and security committee finally published its findings on Russian influence over UK politics in 2020 after a nine-month delay.

Known as the ‘Russia report’, it revealed that the Kremlin’s power in the UK had become the “new normal”.

However, the report explained it would be “difficult if not impossible” to assess the impact of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 EU referendum, even though it was “important” to establish if Moscow tried to influence the democratic process.

The report says this is because there was no attempt by No.10 or the intelligence services to investigate potential Russian interference after the referendum – noting that this is not the “helpful reassurance” the public needs.

The report also pointed out there had been some “credible open source commentary” suggesting Russia tried to influence the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

The government also confirmed in 2020 that it was “almost certain” Russia tried to interfere with the 2019 general election by releasing online material about the NHS which was used in Labour’s campaign against the Tories.

However, the UK’s use of paper and pencil voting system when it comes to general elections and referendums is considered “largely sound” by the committee behind the Russia report, because it’s harder to interfere with.

Russian links to the UK elite

The Russia report also says the UK has been welcoming Russian oligarchs – business leaders with political influence – meaning there are now “ideal mechanisms by which illicit finance” could be moved through London.

It concludes: “There are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth.”

It said these figures were now so intertwined with the UK – particularly “Londongrad” – measures being taken are not “preventive but rather constitute damage limitation”.

UK ‘took its eye off’ Russia with Crimea

The Russian report suggests that the “intelligence community should – and could – have reacted more quickly and increased operational effort on Russia” after Putin annexed Crimea in 2014.

It explains: “On figures alone, it could be said that they took their eye off the ball; nevertheless, the heads of MI5, SIS, GCHQ and defense intelligence all sought to defend against this suggestion.”

This has a wider implication that the UK did not consider Russian activity much of a threat at the time.

When it comes to protecting the UK’s democratic processes the report also said this should be a ministerial priority with the operational role sitting with M15.

A map showing how the crisis has moved on in the last 24 hours

PA Graphics Press Association Images

Salisbury poisoning

The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, and the attempted hacking of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2018 made it clear the Russian intelligence services are “not infallible”, according to the Russia report.

Yet, the findings claimed, “it would be foolhardy to think that they are any less dangerous because of these mistakes” and meaning they are likely to learn from their errors and become even harder to detect.

However, Russia always refused to take responsibility for the attack, even though Sergei is seen as a traitor to the country.

Segrei and his daughter did survive the attack and now live in secret, protected by the British authorities, but a member of the public ended up dying after also being contaminated by the nerve agent.

spying

Only last August, a British man named as “David S” was arrested under suspicion of Spying and reporting back to Russia.

He was arrested in Germany after a joint operation from German and British police. He allegedly passed documents he acquired at work to Russian intelligence “at least once” in exchange for an unspecified amount of money.

He was believed to have been spying since November 2020 “at the latest”.

Westminster laid out proposals to tighten rules surrounding hostile activity by foreign states in May 2022 in response – this included a law which would grant new powers to security services and law enforcement to help tackle these threats.

Yet, the government was still criticized for not acting with not taking the new measures far enough at the time.

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