Theresa May warns Russia over election meddling and vows to protect UK

Prime Minister condemns Moscow over 'sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption'

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 13 November 2017 22:18 GMT

Theresa May has issued a stern warning to Russia over attempts to “threaten international order” in a speech condemning its alleged meddling in elections and campaign of cyber espionage.

In some of her strongest words yet, the Prime Minister said the UK would do “what is necessary to protect ourselves” and allies from disruption from Moscow, urging President Vladimir Putin to step back from efforts to “weaponise information” through fake news, hacking and electoral interference.

The comments will put her at odds with President Donald Trump, who has sought to downplay claims of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign by insisting that President Putin was telling the truth when he denied meddling in the US election.

Ms May, in a speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, said: "In a recent speech President Putin said that while the interests of states do not always coincide, strategic gains cannot be made at the expense of others. When a state fails to observe universal rules of conduct and pursues its interests at any cost, it will provoke resistance and disputes will become unpredictable and dangerous.

"I say to President Putin, I agree. But it is Russia’s actions which threaten the international order on which we all depend."

Outlining concerns over Russia's annexation of Crimea, Ms May said: "Since then, Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbas, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption.

"This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others.

"It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions."

Addressing Moscow directly, the Prime Minister said: "We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.

"The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."

Ms May also reiterated the UK's commitment to its European allies after Brexit, by vowing to seek a "comprehensive new economic partnership" with free societies against those that "seek to undermine them".

However she stressed the need to avoid returning to Cold War relations and vowed to send Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to Moscow in the coming months to build a stronger dialogue on international stability.

Mr Johnson was invited to Moscow by his counterpart Sergei Lavrov, after an earlier visit was cancelled in the wake of a deadly chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria. Russia supports President Assad's regime, which was blamed for the atrocity.

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