Britain, Spain claim Russia is ‘meddling’
BRITAIN/SPAIN: In a remarkable one-two punch aimed at Russian hackers, bots and trolls, the prime ministers of Britain and Spain have separately accused Russian entities – including some allegedly supported by the state – of meddling in European elections and have vowed to foil them.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said yesterday that an ‘‘avalanche’’ of bots spread ‘‘fake news’’ about Spain during Catalonia’s independence referendum last month, and that Spanish authorities thought that more than half of the originating accounts were in Russian territory.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday accused Russia of attempting to ‘‘undermine free societies’’ and ‘‘sow discord’’ in Britain and among its Western allies by ‘‘deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories’’.
‘‘So I have a very simple message for Russia,’’ May said. ‘‘We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.’’
The allegations stand in stark contrast to remarks made last weekend by United States President Donald Trump, who appeared to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian officials responded to the statements from London and Madrid by calling them unsubstantiated, hypocritical and in keeping with a ‘‘blame Russia first’’ ethos in the West.
Neither Rajoy nor May provided much evidence to support their accusations, although both countries have deployed their security services to investigate the alleged peddling of fake news.
‘‘We learned that 55 per cent of those fake profiles were in Russia,’’ Rajoy said. ‘‘And an additional 30 per cent in Venezuela. This has happened with Brexit [and] in the French elections.’’
Spanish authorities have said that Russian users falsely linked images of violence to the controversial Catalan referendum and amplified news accounts from state-backed Russian media outlets that stoked separatism.
‘‘What is clear is that there are people who may be interested in things not going well in Europe,’’ Rajoy said.
Catalan pro-independence advocates deny that Russian bots played a significant role in bolstering their cause.
Preliminary investigations by a Spanish media outlet found that social media at the time of the referendum were awash in fake news and unrelated images circulated by both sides.
May’s condemnation of Russia reflected her government’s concern that Russia continues to manipulate social media, efforts that ‘‘included meddling in elections and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others’’.
‘‘The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise,’’ May said. –
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the Justice Department yesterday.
Theresa May and Mariano Rajoy say Russia has interfered in European elections.