There is now mounting evidence that the Russians are using techniques to destabilise the European Union, and possibly attempted to influence a win for ‘Leave’ in last year’s referendum.
Today’s front page of The Guardian gives a non-cryptic clue: ‘Russia backed Brexit in fake Twitter posts’.
And today’s front page of The Times claimed, ‘Russia used web posts “to disrupt” Brexit vote.’
The newspaper dramatically claimed, ‘Russian Twitter accounts posted almost 45,000 messages about Brexit in 48 hours during last year’s referendum in an apparently coordinated attempt to sow discord.’
The Guardian claimed, ‘Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit.’
The paper reported that:
“Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US.”
The Times reported on separate research by data scientists at Swansea University and the University of California in Berkeley, claiming that more than 150,000 accounts based in Russia switched their attention to Brexit in the days leading up to the referendum vote.
Apparently, the messages were automatically created by ‘bots’ or cyborg accounts, and the analysis suggests they were viewed hundreds of millions of times.
The Times said that most of the Tweets they had investigated, ‘encouraged people to vote for Brexit, an outcome which Russia would have regarded as destabilising for the European Union.’
However, a number of the Russian Tweets were pro-Remain, according to The Times report, suggesting that the goal may have been simply to sow discord.
Commented Damian Collins, the Tory MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee:
“This is the most significant evidence yet of interference by Russian-backed social media accounts around the Brexit referendum.”
Mr Collins added:
“The content published and promoted by these accounts is clearly designed to increase tensions throughout the country and undermine our democratic process. I fear that this may well be just the tip of the iceberg.”
This week Prime Minister, Theresa May, accused Moscow of using fake news to “sow discord” and of meddling directly in elections.
The Times reported that one Russian Tweeter, Svetlana Lukyanchenko, living in the small town of Gelendzhik, used her Twitter name of Sveta1972 to post a series of pro-Brexit Tweets in the four days leading up to the EU referendum.
She Tweeted, for example, that the EU was an “unelected assembly of corporatist agents” imposing debt and austerity “on all member states”. But after the referendum she suddenly stopped Tweeting about Brexit altogether.
According to researchers Sveta1972 was one of thousands of suspect Russian accounts tweeting copiously about Brexit in the run-up to last year’s vote.
According to The Guardian, a number of Russian tweets have been identified by Twitter Inc.
One of them, by someone in Russia with the name, @SouthLoneStar, reportedly Tweeted: “I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion!” and “UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote.”
The Russian government has strongly denied that it interfered with the EU referendum. President Putin said after last year’s vote, “We closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it.”
But there is little doubt that many in the Moscow hierarchy welcomed the Brexit outcome.
Commented The Guardian:
“An EU without Britain would be less united on sanctions against Russia, many Russian officials hoped, because it would lose one of its stronger foreign policy voices and would be too consumed with its own internal problems to prioritise Russia policy.”
Last year, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said Britain’s vote to leave the EU was “a giant victory for Putin’s foreign policy objectives”.
Writing for InFacts today, Dennis McShane, a former Minister for Europe and Labour MP commented:
‘The Russian president told Bloomberg in September 2016 that Brexit would lead to a smaller EU. Putin has always resented having to deal with the EU and insisted that only bilateral relations mattered for Russia.’
Mr McShane added:
‘At the Lord Mayor’s Banquet this week Theresa May attacked Putin for interfering in elections in the West. She did not mention Brexit as she has to pander to the Brexit hardliners in the cabinet and Conservative Party. But there are also many Tories who care deeply about standing up to Russia.
‘If more evidence surfaces that the narrow Brexit result was influenced by an unfriendly foreign power, it will be harder to argue that a stolen poll should be the final word on Britain’s relationship with its friendly neighbours.’
So, here’s the bottom line. Russia, a proud nation, is still wounded by the loss of its empire, the Soviet Union.
Most of the former countries and territories that had been shackled behind the Iron Curtain for decades decided to join the European Union after they had won their freedom almost 30 years ago.
Those former Communist countries are now proud of their independence as returned-members of our European family, as members of the EU, and they are doing well.
Those former Communities living in the sphere of the Soviet Union are now our continent’s fastest growing economies since they joined the European Union.
Poland, for example, sailed through the world-wide economic crisis unscathed. Since 2007 its economy has grown by a third, and it now has Europe’s fastest growing number of millionaires.
And Romania was recently described by The Economist magazine as ‘the tiger economy of Europe’.
Both Poland and Romania are economically stable countries, with low inflation, relatively low public debt (public debt of Romania is only at 39% of the GDP), low interest rates and a relatively stable exchange rate.
GDP growth in Romania is around 4% and in Poland around 3.5% – rates that our British government could only dream about. British businesses are significantly benefiting from the export markets in both Poland and Romania.
Former USSR member, Estonia, has become the world’s most advanced country in the use of internet technologies. Just a generation ago, it was still under Soviet domination as a very poor backwater on the Baltic Sea. Now it is a developed country and a member of both the EU and NATO.
But many of these countries fear that Russia wants its old territory back.
Last June, Russia sent 2,500 troops to its border near Latvia and Estonia, making the people of those countries fear that their giant neighbour is planning conflict and annexation.
Newsweek reported at the time, ‘Concern has been mounting for years among some European officials over whether Russia could strike the Baltics following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.’
Anxiety about a possible war in the Baltics remains high, with most citizens of Lithuania and Latvia citing armed conflict as their prime concern.
Russia has formally denied it would ever attack a member of NATO, which the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are. But the promises of Moscow diplomats have done little to assuage worries in the former Soviet Union states that are now established members of the EU.
Last month Der Spiegel magazine reported on a leaked NATO report that it would be unable to repel a Russian attack on its Eastern European members.
Poland as well as Scandinavian and Baltic member states feel threatened by Russia and have urged the alliance to bolster its eastern flank against possible aggression.
Are we going to see an attempt by Russia to try and recreate something similar to the USSR?
Several prominent Brexiters have already expressed that their goal is to see the end of the European Union.
Conservative MP Steve Baker, one of the government’s Brexit negotiators, said in 2010 that he wanted to see the European Union “wholly torn down.”
Michael Gove, MP, now the Environment Secretary, said similar comments during the referendum. He said, “Britain voting to leave will be the beginning of something potentially even more exciting – the democratic liberation of a whole continent.”
He described Britain’s departure from the EU as “a contagion” that could spread across Europe.
Nigel Farage said on Talk Radio in Spain that he didn’t stop at Britain leaving the EU; he wanted to see “Europe out of the European Union” – in other words, the complete disintegration of the European Single Market.
These are the friends of Russia’s implicit aims.
The choice may come down to this:
- Do we support a European Union, that brings together our family of European countries in peace and prosperity; a cohesion we should not disrupt or harm with Brexit?
- Or do we support a new kind of Soviet Union, in which once again we lose those countries which only a short time ago re-joined us, and want to stay with us in our Union of Europe?
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