'Her Majesty's Russia Unit': How British spies have launched a full-scale propaganda war to demonize Moscow
The growing political feud between Russia and the West has spurred the activation of specialized propaganda and intelligence units. With regards to the Ukraine crisis, experts say one of the most active parties has been the United Kingdom, which in recent years has stepped up its efforts to demonize Russia by waging a full-scale propaganda war.
As an RT analysis has shown, Britain’s 'HMG Russia Unit,' an interdepartmental government organization created several years ago, has acted as a front for soft influence operations against Moscow with the assistance of international consulting organizations.
Up until now, the activities of the operation had not been publicly visible. However, last month publications containing its employees’ personal information appeared in a number of Russian Telegram channels. It is alleged that the email addresses included in these posts belong to employees of the HMG Russia Unit who are also connected to various other UK government departments, including the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, military intelligence, MI5, and the Ministry of Defence, as well as American curators attached to the group.
To begin with, let’s explain how a group specifically targeting Russia appeared within the British government, what its purpose is, and what it does.
“The government has long recognized the presence of a sustained and significant threat from Russia to the UK and its allies, including both conventional military capabilities and disinformation, illegal financial transactions, influence operations, and cyber-attacks,” said a report submitted to parliament by the Office of the British Prime Minister in 2020.
For the British government, Russia has become “one of the main priorities from the point of view of national security,” it adds.
“This is why in 2017 the Government implemented the NSC-endorsed (National Security Council — RT) Russia Strategy, and in 2017 established the cross-Government Russia Unit which brings together the UK’s diplomatic, intelligence and military capabilities to maximum effect,” the report goes on to say.
According to the British government’s own reports, the HMG Russia Unit, which was formally attached to the UK Foreign Office, was primarily tasked with coordinating information and propaganda campaigns aimed against Russia. This can be traced from data released by the British government and, in particular, from a large-scale program financed by the UK Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) that was carried out by the Foreign Office up until 2021 to develop media resources, including in Russian, and so-called "counter disinformation."
The program notes that the United Kingdom is working with a number of partners to improve the quality of public and independent media resources, including Russian-speaking ones, so they can “support social cohesion, uphold universal values and provide communities in countries across Eastern Europe with access to reliable information.”
The forms of support vary. They include, for example, mentoring by British media staff, consultations on creating broadcast networks, financing of joint productions, and support for regional media projects in Russian.
“In the coming year we will be investing over £8m in supporting public service and independent media. This will include projects in the Baltic States and Ukraine, as well as regional initiatives,” according to a document published by the UK government.
Contract for demonization
However, the HMG Russia Unit’s efforts are not limited to coordinating propaganda efforts. From data on the UK government’s public procurement portal, it can be seen that it has served as a customer for the Green Finance initiative – a British-Russian project aimed at promoting sustainable financing for developing institutional ties between Moscow and London in the environmental and economic spheres. The final date for fulfilling the contract is March 31, 2022.
Funds in the amount of £987,600 were received by the well-known consulting company PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC).
If we analyze the UK government’s funding allocations targeting Russia, it turns out that in addition to PwC, Moody’s Analytics (a Moody’s subsidiary) received funds through a specialized non-profit entity named UK Research and Innovation as part of a contract to track companies and individuals that have been sanctioned over the Ukraine conflict. The relevant restrictions are noted on a portal for the placement of UK government contracts.
The involvement of private international consulting companies in promoting the UK agenda with respect to Russia, as well as the post-Soviet space, logically correlates with the HMG Russia Unit’s involvement in large-scale projects to demonize Russia’s image.
In this regard, there is a noteworthy letter dated February 7, 2019, addressed to the British investigative journalist Till Bruckner, who had requested data on the activities of the Integrity Initiative from the British Foreign Office. It states that in 2017-2018, £296,500 was earmarked to finance the project, and an additional £1.961 million in 2019.
A response to the journalist’s request was received from the HMG Russia Unit. The Integrity Initiative has been flagged as one of Britain’s main programs responsible for spreading anti-Russia fakes and waging a propaganda war against Moscow. At the same time, as RT noted back in 2018, the hacker collective Anonymous published internal documents from the Integrity Initiative that revealed the mechanisms British media networks employ in their subversive work aimed at Russia.
British influence networks initially set a certain standard for the West’s anti-Russian template, Alexey Martynov, a political scientist who heads the Institute of Newly Established States, said in an interview with RT.
“The British are trendsetters, in a sense. The now popular buzzword ‘fake news’, the formation of false narratives, the management of media streams – all this was born in their heads,” says the political scientist. “Goebbels studied with British military propagandists. What they are doing is military propaganda.”
The academic noted that using private consulting companies and rating agencies as tools to influence Russia was a ‘soft power’ tactic traditionally employed by specialized British agencies.
“Any rating agency is created as a tool for manipulating media flows, and other business dimensions grow out of this. They also have access to domestic statistics that are not available to the public,” the political scientist said. “These mechanisms have been tested since the 1990s, when all data was opened to foreign ‘partners’. Then these mechanisms were created – it is important to have a high ranking with rating agencies, otherwise you won’t receive loans.”
The UK continues to ramp up its sanctions against Russia. In May, it announced another package of restrictive measures, adding more individuals and legal entities from Russia to the list and planning to ban imports of Russian oil. In April, London also banned the import of Russian silver, caviar, and wood products.