August 1, 2021

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UK report says Russia meddled in Scottish referendum

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street, London, as he resumes working after spending two weeks recovering from Covid-19.

Stefan Rousseau | PA Images via Getty Images

The U.K. has accused Russia of interfering in its political system in a long-awaited report into the country’s influence on British politics.

The U.K.’s Intelligence and Security Committee published the report on Tuesday morning, even though it was completed back in March 2019 and sent to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson in October.

The report’s publication had been delayed during wrangling over Brexit late last year, a snap general election in December and then the coronavirus pandemic, but critics of the government say it was trying to suppress its findings.

“Russian influence in the U.K. is the new normal,” the report stated. “Successive governments have welcomed the oligarchs and their money with open arms, providing them with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to U.K. companies and political figures.”

The government had already hinted at what was contained within the report last week when it accused “Russian actors” of seeking to interfere in the U.K.’s last general election in December. 

“We believe we know with reasonable confidence that Russian actors were involved in trying to interfere with the 2019 election, principally through trying to spread and amplify online illegally obtained, leaked documents relating to the U.S.-U.K. free trade negotiations,” the U.K.’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said last week.

The documents on those trade talks were used by the opposition Labour Party in its 2019 election campaign to try to discredit the Conservative government. Labour said the documents showed the Conservatives would allow U.S. firms access to bid for business in the National Health Service as part of any future trade deal.

Russia denied the allegations, with its ambassador to the U.K. telling the BBC in an interview at the weekend that “we do not interfere at all. We do not see any point in interference because for us, whether it will be (the) Conservative Party or Labour’s party at the head of this country, we will try to settle relations and to establish better relations than now.”

The report comes at a period of high tension between Russia and the West. Last Thursday, the U.S., U.K. and Canada accused Russia of trying to steal information and research on potential coronavirus vaccines in development from academic and pharmaceutical bodies.

Russia denied the allegations with the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling TASS news agency that “Russia has nothing to do with these attempts. We do not accept such accusations nor the latest groundless allegations of interference in 2019 elections.”

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