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Wed, 5 August 2020

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Liberal democracy has been under attack from Putin’s Russia for years – it's high time we acted like it

Liberal democracy has been under attack from Putin’s Russia for years – it's high time we acted like it

Throughout the fifty pages of the report, the Intelligence and Security Committee paint a picture of a state that is rotten from the head down, writes Stewart McDonald MP | PA Images

3 min read

Successive Tory governments have opened their wallets and closed their eyes while Russia has infiltrated every aspect of our political and economic life.

After eighteen months of dither and delay, the much-anticipated Russia report was released this week. 

It is unequivocal: successive Tory Governments have, for years, opened their wallets and closed their eyes while Russia – a “hostile foreign power” – has infiltrated every aspect of political and economic life in this country, asking “few questions – if any” as long as the rubles kept flowing in.

Throughout the fifty pages of the report, the Intelligence and Security Committee paint a picture of a state that is rotten from the head down.

It wasn’t that the Government didn’t know – it’s that they simply did not care.

From unelected legislators in the House of Lords who “have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state”, to a vast nexus of lawyers, accountants, estate agents and PR professionals who “have played a role, wittingly or unwittingly, in … promoting the nefarious interests of the Russian state”, the British Government has for years sat back and allowed malevolent Russian actors to actively undermine our democracy.  

The UK Government has been asleep at the wheel.

Page after page of revelations show that the threat posed by Russia has been long known but little acted upon.  It took until 2016 for the National Security Council to approve a cross-Whitehall Russia Strategy – almost a decade after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko on British soil.

The same year – before the Brexit vote, before Trump’s election – my SNP colleague Martin Docherty-Hughes MP wrote about the threat Russia poses to our democracy.

It wasn’t that the Government didn’t know – it’s that they simply did not care. Despite the many warnings, the Tory party continued to actively court the wealthy Russian business community which, as the report makes clear, is “completely intertwined” with Russian intelligence. 

It adds that “several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as … having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.”

These are no small donations either: £20,000 for lunch with Ruth Davidson, £135,000 for a night out with Theresa May, £160,000 for a tennis match with Boris Johnson. 

Anyone else would stop to ask why these donors – often one or two degrees of separation away from the heart of the Kremlin – would be willing pay such astronomical sums of money for a few hours with senior politicians. Not the Tories. Remember: don’t ask any questions as long as the money keeps flowing in.

With the UK Government unwilling or unable to properly protect our national security, Putin’s Kremlin has been actively engaged in a campaign to destabilise our society through a campaign of subtle disinformation and direct attacks. 

From malicious cyber activity to ‘real life’ political interference, the report is explicit in identifying Russia as a “actively hostile towards the UK and the West and fundamentally unwilling to adhere to international laws and norms” since the election of President Putin in 2000.

The publication of this report must be a wakeup call for all of us. Not just for the Conservative Party and the UK Government, but everyone who recognises the peace and prosperity that liberal democracy has brought us.

Liberal democracy has been under attack from Putin’s Russia for years – it is high time we acted like it.

 

Stewart McDonald is the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow South and SNP spokesperson for Defence.