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‘No One’ Protected British Democracy From Russia, U.K. Report Concludes

2020-07-21 10:16:12
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LONDON — Russia has weaponized information as part of a broad and long-running effort to interfere in the British political system and sow discord, and those efforts were widely ignored by successive British governments, according to a long-awaited report released on Tuesday by the British Parliament.

While the report examined Russia’s possible role in fomenting discord surrounding some of the United Kingdom’s most divisive political battles in recent years — including the 2016 Brexit referendum that rejected membership of European Union and a 2014 referendum in which Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom — it did not draw conclusions on the success of those efforts.

Instead, the authors of the report told British lawmakers that they could not speak to the effectiveness of the Russian influence campaign because the government had failed to even be alert to the threat despite years of mounting evidence.

It raised a fundamental question: Who is protecting the country’s democratic system?

“No one is,” was the answer given by the authors.

The release of the Russia report comes almost one and a half years after the conclusion of the inquiry by the British Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, the body that oversees the country’s spy agencies.

Despite the long wait, it comes at a moment of high interest in the extent of Russian interference in western politics, ahead of the U.S. presidential elections in November.

The report, based on secret intelligence as well as evidence from independent experts, aims to summarize the threat Russia poses to Britain and the effectiveness of countermeasures.

Concerns about Russian meddling and aggression stretch back more than a decade to the death in November 2006 of Alexander V. Litvinenko.

A former K.G.B. officer and critic of the Kremlin, Mr. Litvinenko had won asylum in Britain. He was killed in central London by the radioactive poison polonium-210, believed to have been administered by a cup of tea. A subsequent British inquiry concluded that his killing “was probably approved” by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and the head of the country’s intelligence service.

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