May accuses Russia of election meddling, spreading fake news
LONDON: Theresa May has accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media in an extraordinary attack on its attempts to “weaponise information” in order to sow discord in the west.
The prime minister spoke out against “the scale and nature” of Russia’s actions during an address at the lord mayor’s banquet, saying it was “threatening the international order on which we all depend”.
Listing Russia’s attempts to undermine western institutions in recent years, she said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.
“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.” Her speech is a seri- ous escalation of the UK’S warnings about Russia as Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, prepares to visit Moscow before the end of the year as part of a strategy of cautious engagement with Vladimir Putin’s administration.
Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, May said Russia had “fomented conflict in the Donbass [eastern Ukraine], repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber-espionage and disruption”. “This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish ministry of defence and the Bundestag [German parliament], among many others,” she told the audience of City of London business figures. “It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.”
She said the UK did not want to “return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation” but the UK would have to act to pro- tect the interests of the UK, Europe and rest of the world if Russia continues on its current path. A Downing Street source said May was not making the intervention in response to any specific event but rather to a growing body of evidence that Russian agencies have been attempting to interfere with western politics.
The prime minister’s strong criticism of Russia’s activities comes in contrast to comments this weekend by Donald Trump, who said on Saturday that he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of having meddled in the American presidential elections. May did not say on Monday whether she was concerned with Russian intervention in any UK democratic processes, but Ben Bradshaw, a leading Labour MP, is among those to have called for a judge-led inquiry.
Theresa May with Vladimir Putin