Sky News’s foreign and political journalists offer their analysis on the UK’s response to Russia’s interference threat.
The content of the article:
Sky News experts have analysed a long-awaited parliamentary report on Russia’s activities which concluded the UK government “took its eye off the ball”.
The report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said the government was slow to recognise the potential threat to British democratic processes, and did not properly consider whether Moscow could interfere in the 2016 Brexit referendum until after the vote.
It also described claims that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum as “credible”.
‘UK requires a tougher legislative response’
Diana Magnay, Moscow correspondent
This report outlines in stark detail the nature of the Russian threat – one of the “hardest intelligence challenges” the UK faces.
The chilling assessment that the threat has migrated from Moscow – and situated itself so firmly within the UK’s borders that it can no longer be extracted – is a damning indictment of what the committee describes as the “laissez-faire” attitude of government policy.
Declarations of outrage from Russia are to be expected.
The Kremlin says it “has never interfered in electoral processes in any country” – a line that rang hollow long before this report was published. It is characteristic of the Russian state to profess to follow the rules-based international order whilst working actively to undermine it.
The problem the UK faces with Russia’s present leadership is one of deterrence. This report raises the ante with the Kremlin, and President Putin sees power in binary terms.
The ISC says there can be no chance of a move towards stronger ties with Russia at present. The UK will require a much tougher legislative response back home to counter an antagonised Kremlin.
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Deborah Haynes, foreign affairs editor
This is staggering – the UK doesn’t know if Russia interfered in the Brexit vote because it never sought to ask.
For years, ministers have consistently batted off questions about whether Vladimir Putin’s regime attempted to meddle in the EU referendum, saying there was no evidence of “successful interference”.
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We now know why. They had never specifically instructed MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – the intelligence and security agencies tasked with protecting the UK – with looking at precisely this issue.
It is a damning finding from a report by the powerful Intelligence and Security Committee that Boris Johnson ensured did not see the light of day until long after the last election in December.
Kevan Jones, a Labour member of the intelligence watchdog, who also sat on the previous ISC that compiled the report, called it a “scandal”.
Read more here.
‘Implied, rather than specific, criticism of British businesses’
Ian King, business presenter
There is more implied, rather than specific, criticism of British businesses and business people in the Russia report.
Russia report: UK took its 'eye off the ball' over interference threat, says ISC
Yes, it highlights the London “laundromat” for recycling illicit Russian money, while also citing how lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals played a part in integrating Russians with close links to President Putin into the UK business scene.
But specific examples are thin on the ground and it feels, from a first reading, that the report’s authors view business people as less culpable in enabling Russian influence over this country than ministers, politicians and the intelligence services.
‘Without names, there will not really be justice’
Sam Coates, deputy political editor
The allegations couldn’t be more serious. But it is far from clear the Intelligence and Security Committee report will make that much of a difference.
The primary problem is that it avoids detailing specific incidents of Russian interference detected by the UK agencies and does not name names when it comes to Russian businessmen, and Russian-backed PR people, lawyers and accountants.
Without names, there will not really be justice.
The parliamentary report details in pitiless prose how successive UK governments were professionally incurious about the threat from Russia.
Nobody rang the alarm bells about the London “Laundromat” for fear of jeopardising cash coming into the country.
Nobody took action after the Scottish independence referendum, despite clear open-source evidence of interference.
'Staggering' Russia report reveals why government batted off Brexit interference claims
Even now the government seems determined to side-step a discussion on Russian involvement in the Brexit referendum.
It says “we have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU referendum” – a genius answer from the mandarin school of obfuscation since almost no act of interference could ever be proved to change someone’s vote.
Instead, we have worthy policy-based conclusions and a packed Number 10 agenda focusing on other issues.
The caravan moves on.
‘Russia took advantage’
Alistair Bunkall, defence and security correspondent
It is easy to think Russia is the greatest threat to UK security and stability, but for years British intelligence was focused – with justification – on the threat from Islamist extremism: IS and al Qaeda.
Threats wax and wane but it is now clear, if it wasn’t previously, that Russia has remained a threat to the UK throughout the years.
Twenty years ago, MI5 devoted 20% of its resources to hostile state threats like Russia.
By 2008, only 3% of its efforts were targeted in that direction, leaving a gap in intelligence coverage. Russia took advantage.
Today, counter-espionage resources are back to Cold War levels but the consequences of “taking their eye off the ball” have already been felt.
MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have been pursuing their own counter-Russian strategies – the ISC report says that must change.