Russia Report: UK One Of Moscow's 'Top Targets'

A report has found the Government "badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat" and is "still playing catch up".

The UK is one of Russia's "top Western intelligence targets", a long-awaited report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has warned.

The document says Russian influence in the UK is "the new normal" and accuses successive governments of welcoming Russian "oligarchs" with "open arms". 

It warns that has provided them with a "means of recycling illicit finance through the London ‘laundromat’, and connections at the highest levels with access to UK companies and political figures".

The report has also found there are Russians with "very close links" to Vladimir Putin who are "well integrated into the UK business, political and social scene - in 'Londongrad' in particular".

It adds "a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies” and these relationships should be "carefully scrutinised".

The report also questions whether Government "took its eye off the ball" on Russia and finds that they "badly underestimated the response required to the Russian threat".

It adds the Government is "still playing catch up".

The document, prepared by committee members in the previous Parliament, was postponed by Boris Johnson's decision to call an early general election and the need to re-establish the committee's membership.

Committee member Kevan Jones MP crticised the Prime Minister for not signing off the report earlier, saying there was "no reason for delay".

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: "The report is very clear that the Government has under-estimated the response required to Russia and it is imperative we learn the lessons from the mistakes that have been made."

Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Kremlin.
The report said there are Russians with "very close links" to Vladimir Putin who are "well integrated into the UK business, political and social scene" (Picture: PA).

Political Interference

The report says the UK is "clearly a target" for Russian disinformation campaigns. 

The committee suggests the prospect of interference in domestic political processes by the Russians was viewed as a "hot potato" which none of the intelligence agencies wanted to grasp.

It comes after the Foreign Secretary said it was "almost certain" that Russia tried to interfere in last year's general election by leaking Government documents.

The committee says it would be "difficult – if not impossible – to prove" widespread allegations Russia sought to influence the 2016 Brexit referendum but "the Government was slow to recognise the existence of the threat".

It adds the intelligence agencies and ministers should have been aware of the risk of Russian interference as a result of "credible open source commentary suggesting that Russia undertook influence campaigns in relation to the Scottish independence referendum" in 2014.

No-one in Government wanted to touch the issue of Russian interference with a "10-foot pole", according to ISC member SNP MP Stewart Hosie.

Speaking about the probe into alleged Russian interference in British democracy, Mr Hosie said that no-one in Government knew if Russia interfered or sought to influence the 2016 referendum "because they did not want to know".

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab in Downing Street, London 280520 CREDIT PA
Dominic Raab said last week that it was "almost certain" that Russia tried to interfere in last year's general election by leaking Government documents (Picture: PA).

The report says: "Russia’s promotion of disinformation and attempts at political influence overseas - whether through the use of social media, hack and leak operations, or its state-owned traditional media - have been widely reported.

"In the UK, the use of a highly-dispersed paper-based voting and counting system makes actual interference with the mechanism difficult, but we should not be complacent about other forms of interference: the UK is clearly a target and must equip itself to counter such efforts."

The committee calls for the intelligence community to carry out a full assessment of potential Russian meddling in the 2016 referendum.

'Highly Capable Cyber Actor'

The report also outlines how Russia is a "highly capable cyber actor" and an "immediate threat" to national security.

The committee says it was "concerned" over "no clear coordination" between the organisations in the UK's intelligence community. 

However, it did also recognise the Government's "increasingly asssertive approach" and recommended the UK adopts a "name and shame" approach.

It also said ministers should engage in diplomacy to ensure allies do the same, adding: "Whilst the UK must have its own defensive and offensive capabilities, it must also be prepared to lead international action."

Mr Hosie said Russia "weaponises information", describing Russia's intelligence services as "disproportionately large and powerful".

"Russia poses an all-encompassing security threat which is fuelled by paranoia about the West and a desire to be seen as a resurgent great power," he added.

"It carries out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively, for example by attempting to interfere in other countries’ elections."

General view of a sign for Porton Down Science Campus in Wiltshire 150318 CREDIT PA
The report said the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was targeted by Russia following the Salisbury attack in 2018 (Picture: PA).

The document also said Russian GRU actors have tried to hack Government bodies.

According to GCHQ, both the Foreign and Commowealth Office and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory were both targeted during the "early stages" of the investigation into the Salisbury nerve agent attack in 2018.

The substance used in the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter was analysed at the Wiltshire facility. 

'All-Encompassing Security Threat'

The document also looked at Russia's armed forces.

It said the country's intelligence, military and economic power an "all-encompassing security threat".

Although its "economic weakness", the report said Russia "heavily resources its intelligence services and armed forces, which are disproportionately large and powerful".

Because of Russia's "lack of democracy and rule of law", its intelligence agencies are able to "act quickly, without constraint or consideration", it added.

Cover image: PA.