In an article published in The Guardian on Sunday, the newspaper’s defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh cited Cabinet Office sources as confirming that the position on Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2019 UK election “has been quietly changed”.
According to him, British ministers will now no longer argue that there are “no successful examples” of such interference.
Sabbagh said that statements pointing to a lack of evidence of meddling were “regularly deployed in response to allegations of Russian interference in the Brexit referendum”. In particular, he referred to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May’s unwillingness to “discuss Kremlin disinformation”.
The author recalled that the revised position was for the first time mentioned by Earl Howe, the deputy leader of the House of Lords, during a parliamentary session in January.
When asked if there were plans to investigate foreign governments’ alleged interference in December’s UK election, Howe said that London is poised to protect Britain’s “democratic and electoral processes”.
“As you would expect, the Government examines all aspects of the electoral process following an election, including foreign interference, and that work is ongoing”, the lawmaker added.
Sabbagh, in turn, cited Labour MP Stephen Kinnock as blaming the government for being slow in admitting “the disinformation threat from Russia”.
“From the hacking of NHS emails to the St Petersburg troll factories and bot farms, it’s clear that the Kremlin is pursuing a deliberate strategy of online disinformation and manipulation that is undermining our democracy”, Kinnock claimed.
He was referring to the leak of classified UK-US trade documents online ahead of the 12 December elections, which the social media site Reddit claimed could have been carried out as part of a campaign that allegedly originated in Russia. The leaked documents ostensibly showed that the Conservatives were plotting to offer the NHS for sale in the post-Brexit London-Washington trade talks.
At the time, UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the Tories of trying to cover up that the NHS had become a bargaining chip to be sold off in the trade talks with the United States. He rejected the Reddit allegations as “nonsense”.
Separately, Sabbagh referred to alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic Party emails ahead of the 2016 US presidential election and Moscow’s “large-scale cyber-attacks” in Georgia, something that was never proven.
Moscow Rejects Allegations of Meddling in UK Elections
The remarks come after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Washington in December that he had heard nothing about "this particular healthcare [NHS] aspect of our interference in relations between the United States and Britain”.
He added that he believes UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who earlier said that before and after Brexit, Russia did not intervene in the UK’s domestic affairs.
Lavrov was echoed by the Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said that “such a persistent term - Russian hackers - is practically used like a fetish in order to distract attention from one's own problems”. According to him, Russian hacker-related allegations are not backed by facts.
“[…] It's very convenient for demonisation, to cover up one's own headache, and to use this fetish to frighten people with Russian hackers. We have repeatedly come up against this and we view it with a dose of derision”, Peskov pointed out, adding that “it's not possible to comment on these seriously”.