The Rus­sian con­nec­tion

The Week - - News -

“Some se­crets are so un­pleas­ant that we flinch from un­cov­er­ing them,” said Ed­ward Lu­cas in The Times. But Bri­tain seems to be fi­nally wak­ing up to the mount­ing ev­i­dence of “Rus­sian med­dling in the Brexit cam­paign”. It ap­pears that large sums of “dark money” – dona­tions whose real ori­gin was dis­guised – were used to fund anti-eu groups dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum. For in­stance, £435,000 was given to Leave cam­paign groups by a shad­owy Glas­gow-based out­fit, the Con­sti­tu­tional Re­search Coun­cil. More wor­ry­ingly, £8m – the largest do­na­tion in Bri­tish po­lit­i­cal his­tory – was given to the Brexit cause by busi­ness­man Ar­ron Banks. The source of the money is mys­te­ri­ous, and his dona­tions are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion; Banks has a Rus­sian wife and ex­ten­sive links to Rus­sia. Mean­while, it has been sug­gested that thou­sands of Twit­ter ac­counts run from Rus­sia were pub­lish­ing anti-eu tweets in the cam­paign. We now know for cer­tain that Rus­sia tried to in­flu­ence the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and that it would wel­come any dis­rup­tion in the EU, said Mark Ga­le­otti in The Guardian. Hard ev­i­dence of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the Brexit cam­paign could “dele­git­imise the orig­i­nal vote, given the nar­row mar­gin of vic­tory”.

Let’s keep this in pro­por­tion, said Tony Bar­ber in the Fi­nan­cial Times. So far, no ac­tual proof of Rus­sian fi­nan­cial sup­port for the Brexit camp has come to light. A hand­ful of Twit­ter ac­counts ac­tive dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum have been sus­pended be­cause they were linked to Rus­sian gov­ern­ment “troll farms”; but “far too few to shape pub­lic opin­ion to any mean­ing­ful ex­tent”. Even if fur­ther in­ter­fer­ence were proved, it would make “lit­tle sense to at­tribute Brexit vic­tory to Rus­sian dark arts”. The re­sult’s real ori­gins lie in David Cameron’s de­ci­sions, and in long-term so­cial and po­lit­i­cal dis­con­tent in the UK. “The hys­te­ria needs to stop,” said Tara Mccor­mack on Spiked. Remainers are en­ti­tled to be up­set by the Brexit vote, but “the idea it was a Krem­lin op is ridicu­lous”. Is it re­ally likely that 76% of peo­ple in Bos­ton, Lin­colnshire voted Leave “be­cause of Krem­lin in­flu­ence”?

Even so, there are ques­tions that must be an­swered, said Lu­cas. Jour­nal­ists from Opendemoc­racy look­ing into Banks’s af­fairs have found that he was in “grave dif­fi­cul­ties” in 2013, but soon af­ter, he be­gan buying up as­sets, in­clud­ing clapped-out di­a­mond mines in south­ern Africa. White­hall ru­mour has it that Rus­sia was the source of his new-found wealth. Bri­tain is cer­tainly a cen­tre for covert Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity, said An­drew Gil­li­gan in The Sun­day Times. At least 14 peo­ple op­posed to Vladimir Putin have died in sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances here in re­cent years. When Trump’s for­mer aide Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los met a “high-level” Rus­sian con­tact who of­fered to give him “dirt” on Hil­lary Clin­ton, the meet­ing took place in Lon­don. The US now has a ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­am­in­ing Rus­sia’s at­tempts to sub­vert its democ­racy. In Bri­tain, we should be do­ing the same.

Ar­ron Banks: un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion

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