On the 21st of July, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) finally published its long-awaited report on Russian interference in the UK’s democratic process. Allegedly the report has been ready since before the election in 2019 but the Johnson led government has been accused of deliberately delaying its release until after they were elected. The chair of the ISC himself, Dominic Grieve, said that the reasons given for the report’s delay were “bogus”. The version of the report that is available to the public has been heavily redacted as it contains a lot of information related to the Intelligence Services, but it still shines an interesting light on the way the government has failed to mitigate the threat of Russian cyber attacks and political interference. It also points out a serious issue of Russian Oligarchs with ties to the Russian Government using London as a haven while also helping to fill the Conservative Party’s coffers.
Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the amount of resources allocated to protection from Hostile State Activity has rapidly fallen; twenty years ago, MI5 devoted around 20% of its resources to this cause. As the threat of terrorism grew, Hostile State Activity resources continued to dwindle; by 2008/9 around 97% of all of MI5’s resources were tied up in counter terrorism activities. It was not until 2013/14, in response to an increase in Russian cyber activity, that resources increased back to 14.5%. The report states –
‘Since 2014, Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries.’
In spite of an increase of resources in the intelligence community to try and deal with this problem it is obvious that the response has been completely disorganised with many different agencies expected to deal with the issue with no clear chain of responsibility in place. After describing all the different agencies involved, the report goes on to state –
‘Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a “hot potato”, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.’
This shows a worrying lack of cohesion and a clear weakness in the supposed stated goal of the UK’s intelligence agencies in “the defence of the realm”. It is clear that since the inception of these agencies the definition of what the ‘realm’ is has changed and more needs to be done to update what it means to defend it.
In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union there seemed to be a genuine hope that Russia could be seen as a potential partner in the upper echelons of UK businesses and political parties. As a result, the UK has been incredibly open in accepting Russian money and investment which has resulted in London becoming something of a recycler of illicit finances and has been referred to as “Londongrad” or the “London Laundromat”. On this matter the report states –
‘Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.’
Probably of little surprise to most it also describes a possible issue of corruption within the House of Lords –
‘It is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state – these relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.’
So, in which direction is all of this Russian money and influence going then?
Since 2014 the Conservative party has received millions of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, nouveau riche that emerged like vultures picking apart the corpse of the USSR for profit.
The largest donor among them has been Lubov Chernukin, the wife of a former Russian deputy finance minister. In the last year she has donated more than £450,000 to the Tories (more than £1.2 million since 2014) and has repeatedly purchased one on one time with high ranking Tory members. In February while attending the Black and White ball- an event held for major Tory donors in Battersea Park- she paid £135,000 at an auction to have dinner with Theresa May. Chernukin also gave almost £15,000 to the constituency office of the Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP who is now the Minister of State for Security. In 2014 she also paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron and £30,000 so that she could have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. We don’t deal in conspiracy theories at ACU but various Tory MP’s prostituting themselves to Russian elites seems very strange indeed.
Another prominent Russian donor is former arms tycoon Alexander Temerko. Over the past 7 years Temerko has gifted over £1.2 million pounds and speaks kindly of his “friend” Boris Johnson. He revealed how close he is with the now Prime Minister when talking with Reuters, claiming that when Johnson was the Foreign Secretary the pair would often “plot” late in to the evening over a bottle of wine on the balcony of Johnson’s office at parliament. The two men reportedly call each other “Sasha”, the Russian nickname for Alexander, this being Johnson’s real first name, which only close friends call him. Alexander Temerko has links to the highest levels inside the Russian government.
There seems to be many on the left that think that the Russian state deserves support as a great anti-western power in the world. This is a dangerous position to take as the current Russian state power is increasingly shown to be incredibly corrupt, confrontational and has many ties to the criminal underworld. It’s not one or the other, it is possible to acknowledge that both the western governments and that of Russia are at least as corrupt as each other. The findings in this ISC report appear very damaging, despite Johnson trying to downplay the revelations in Parliament. In yet another facet of governing, the Tory party has completely dropped the ball and now appears, pretty convincingly, to be heavily influenced by the elites of Russia.