Russian interference in UK general election will likely ramp up dramatically, warns senior US senator

Weakening British resolve on Ukraine’s defence ‘clearly meets Putin’s plans’, says Democrat Mark Warner

Andy Gregory
Wednesday 19 June 2024 12:53 BST
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Russian interference in the UK general election will likely “ramp up dramatically” over the next fortnight, the chair of the United States senate intelligence committee has warned.

Washington has witnessed “egregious efforts” by Moscow to interfere in the democratic process across the globe, similar to those alleged in the 2016 US presidential election, said Mark Warner.

The senior senator, who is regularly briefed on secret US intelligence, said he had been closely monitoring the situation in the UK, adding: “I think the next big test of the state of play will be the British elections in a few weeks.”

Mark Warner chairs the US senate intelligence committee
Mark Warner chairs the US senate intelligence committee (Getty Images)

While US intelligence services are yet to see much activity indicating Russian interference in the ballot due on 4 July, Mr Warner said on Tuesday: “The chances are, as we saw in the past, this activity ramps up dramatically the closer it gets to the election.”

Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor event, the Virginia Democrat was reported as saying: “Clearly, Russia does not like the fact that the UK has been as stalwart as they have been in terms of defence on Ukraine.”

He added: “It clearly meets [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s plans if he can lessen the British or the Americans’ resolve for supporting Ukraine – he can save some money on his tanks, guns, ships, and planes if he can diminish support.”

The warning comes a month after Westminster’s national security committee urged that Britain “must be prepared for the possibility of foreign interference” in the upcoming general election

In a letter to Rishi Sunak, committee chair Dame Margaret Beckett said the UK had experienced a “pattern of attempted foreign interference from countries such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea” in recent years.

The remarks came as Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un struck a new defence pact in Pyongyang
The remarks came as Vladimir Putin and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un struck a new defence pact in Pyongyang (via REUTERS)

The UK government has previously said it is “almost certain” that Russian actors tried to interfere in 2019’s general election.

Dame Margaret said hostile actors could use cyberattacks, target political candidates in a bid to retrieve and exploit sensitive information, spread disinformation online, and capitalise on controversial topics where there are already “domestic divides” in order to sow further division.

While the infamous Internet Research Agency troll farm – linked to the late Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin – was reportedly disbanded last July following his mutinous march on Moscow, there are similar Kremlin-linked groups still active, Mr Warner noted on Tuesday.

Russia and China’s disinformation tactics have both improved, Mr Warner noted on Tuesday, echoing Dame Margaret as he said Moscow was intent on exacerbating social divisions by “sowing discontent or trying to pit groups against each other”.

Describing Putin’s potential efforts to exploit political differences over the defence of Ukraine, Mr Warner reportedly referenced former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who said this week that his new Reform UK party would “like to see” Kyiv negotiate with Russia.

Discussing US presidential candidate Donald Trump’s colder stance towards funding Ukraine’s defence, Mr Warner said: “I’m not sure where Mr Farage is at this week on that issue or whether he’s continuing to follow Mr Trump’s lead.”

Mr Farage told reporters on Tuesday: “If there is a change of American president, Trump will push for these negotiations to happen and my guess is they would happen.”

The remarks came as Putin used his first visit to Pyongyang in 24 years to announce a new Russian-North Korean pact, which he said included a mutual defence clause.

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