Bri­tain, Spain claim Rus­sia is ‘med­dling’

The Dominion Post - - World -

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. –

PHOTO: REUTERS

US At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions tes­ti­fies be­fore a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on oversight of the Jus­tice Depart­ment yes­ter­day.

PHOTOS: GETTY IM­AGES

Theresa May and Mar­i­ano Ra­joy say Rus­sia has in­ter­fered in European elec­tions.

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