Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Of course Russia meddled in the Brexit vote, they meddle in everything that affects them

I listened with complete incredulity to the coverage of the release of the Parliamentary report into Russian meddling in various UK elections and other votes. Russia is a Superpower. It has huge global reach and influence and under Vladimir Putin, it has been relentlessly rebuilding this across the globe, by means fair and foul. The job of the security services is to keep an eye on this and identify such meddling and stop it, if it is damaging our national interests. This should come as a shock to no one. All nations do this as best they can, with the tools at their disposal. It is clear why Russia would have interests in what has been happening in the UK for quite simple geopolitical reasons.

Support for Scottish Independence is a given, anything that weakens the UK on a global level will be seen by Putin as in the interests of Russia. Putin does what leaders of powerful super states always do. The USA does exactly the same thing, as we are seeing in its power plays against China and North Korea. The UK does it all the time as well. From a Chinese perspective, that is what we are doing in Hong Kong (clearly this is not the British perspective). This is the world we live in and these are the rules we all play by.

None of this is secret, or privileged knowledge. It is the way the world works. Great Britain is a mature power and the Foreign Office and the secret services know all about this. They expect the Russians to meddle, to collect human assets and seek to influence people to their way of thinking. They do this by all sorts of means. The most benign are doing things like setting up the Russia Today TV channel and employing people such as Alex Salmond. That is legal and we should have no problem with such things (whether we treat Salmond with any respect for participating and taking the dosh is a different matter, but that's his business).  At the other end of the scale, we have things like the Salisbury poisonings, done to remind Putin's opponents what happen when you upset the boss.

The job of the Foreign Office and the secret services is to keep an eye on all of this. If they are doing their job properly, they know what the Russian government is up to and when necessary they step in. They can't stop the Russians from doing specific actions such as the Salisbury poisoning (unless they get lucky and get a tip off), but they most certainly should be constantly monitoring and building up a picture of the strategic aims of the Russian government and what they are doing to achieve these aims.

With regards to the Brexit vote, there is no doubt in my mind that it suits the Russian State for the UK to leave the EU. This has little to do with the UK and a lot to do with the fact that the EU is a large, powerful block on its doorstep and many of its former satellites have joined. Anything that weakens the EU is definitely good for the goals of Russia. We make the mistake of thinking we are important in all of this and Russia has a special interest in weakening the UK. That is not what the game is all about. If it screws us up, that is a bonus, but primarily it is to disrupt the workings of the EU. Everything I read on the subject is from a UK centric viewpoint, but nothing Vladimir Putin does is primarily directed at the UK. Whatever he does is in his own or the strategic interests of his government and his agenda for Russia.

As for us, it has been in the economic interests (as deemed by various governments of the day) to have Russian money sloshing around in London. The oligarchs see London as a safe haven and a convenient bolt hole, should they fall from grace with the Tsar. From Putins perspective, this is annoying on a personal level, especially when one of his enemies is getting too vocal or meddling too much. But this is not why he invests so much effort in operations in the UK. He does this simply because the UK has soft power and he has a keen appreciation that we can damage his aspirations for Russia.

For decades, the Foreign office and the secret services have had a keen appreciation and a handle on what they are up to. It is simply inconceivable that they would not be aware of Putin and Russia's interest in things such as the Brexit vote. It strikes me as fairly unlikely that there was a massive treasonous conspiracy by the vote leave campaign to rig the vote in association with Russia, It is also quite likely that the Vote Leave campaign didn't really have a good handle (on an organisational level) as to why Putin and Russia should be so interested. In many ways the interests of vote leave and Putin rather coincidentally collide with regards to the EU. Churchill coined the phrase "my enemies enemy is my friend" and this is what I believe has happened in this case. As we are not at war with Russia, we aloow them to invest and open TV companies, it is difficult to make a strong case that there is any reason why they shouldn't meddle in the way they have. No one has been poisoned or lent upon to vote leave. The fact that the Remain run a woeful campaign is far more significant in the matter than Russian meddling.

I suspect that the reason that the report has been so 'inconclusive' is because there is little evidence that anything materially illegal has been done. The concept that Russia shouldn't seek to forward its own national issues is rather charmingly naive. I suspect that like many 'cunning plans' in foreign policy, ultimately Putin might regret encouraging Brexit. I doubt that the UK will ever be close to Russia politically. Brexit will force us closer to the Anglo sphere of interest (USA, Australia, Canada, NZ). It may well bring us closer to our commonwealth friends such as India, and various African nations. We will be forced to be less insular. Ultimately this may dilute the influence of Russia globally. I suspect the EU will do just fine without us.

A large body of people on the remain side of the argument were hoping that firm evidence that Russia rigged the Brexit vote would emerge. That was never going to happen. The most we could have expected was that a lot of evidence of soft influence was used rather effectively. Personally I'd rather not have such foreign influence, but it happens all the time and all nations do it. To expect Russia to take no interest in what happens in a large competitive trading block on its doorstep is quite ridiculous. When it comes down to it, that is simply what happens in the real world.

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