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Are magazines that blame Brexit on Russia legitimate? 

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald
is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Are magazines that blame Brexit on Russia legitimate? 
The rebooted Newsweek has questioned whether the Brexit vote is valid. Rather than admitting that it simply dislikes the outcome, it ludicrously attempts to pin the blame on Russian meddling. 

Firstly, a disclaimer. I personally believe voting for ‘Brexit’ is possibly the most stupid thing a semi-major nation has done in living memory.

At the very time that China, Russia and the US have de-facto established themselves as the three central pillars of an emerging multi-polar world order, it’s beyond comprehension that the UK would vote itself into irrelevance.

It's quite apparent that the only way western Europe’s diminished powers can compete with the ‘big three,’ in the geopolitical sense, is by pooling resources and developing a foreign policy independent of Washington. While Germany, France, Italy and the rest may eventually do that, Britain has excluded itself from the possibility and will now fade even further. Welcome to Upper Volta, reimagined by Boris Johnson. 

Nevertheless, I accept the Brexit result. Because it’s clear how the majority of English and Welsh voters wanted it, after a hard fought campaign. And it’s for this very reason that the publication masquerading as the once-venerable Newsweek has stunned me with its ludicrous assertion that the outcome might not be legitimate because of alleged Russian influence. 

Everything Is Possible 

The writer, one Caroline Baylon, alleges that RT may have influenced the vote in favour of ‘leave.’ Hilariously, she fails to even mention mainstream UK newspapers like The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and The Sun, all of whom openly campaigned for Brexit and have a far greater reach in Britain than this network. 

Baylon refers to a “Russian disinformation campaign” without providing a single example of such activity. She then tries to connect the inaccurate polling that dogged both the US Presidential race and the UK referendum to Russia by alleging that Moscow somehow engineered the outcomes that contradicted the forecasters’ numbers. The idea that these companies are using tired methodology is never entertained.  

Naturally, Wikileaks is thrown into the mix, along with the various unsubstantiated tales of Russian hacking and cyberattacks. Not to mention, the supposed “troll army” and the KGB (and it's successor FSB), who are accused of making Russia “the world’s most advanced country in the use of online disinformation.” It’s like the writer swallowed the “Kremlin scare” cookbook before preparing her disjointed dish. 

The rant is another example of a growing trend among activists who supported the previously prevailing status quo to blame everything, except themselves and the leaders they supported, for the current tumult in the western world. Because, frankly, attempting to make Russia responsible for Brexit is absolutely nuts. 

Special Relations

However, lets play along with Baylon for a moment and suppose that Moscow had some out-sized influence on the result. How then would she explain Washington's role? You see, while Vladimir Putin stayed at home, Barack Obama actually flew to Britain to tell people to vote ‘remain.’ For all the good it did. And, of course, the US media overwhelmingly backed its government’s position. Strangely, Baylon has no concerns about this pressure at all. 

The reasons for that become clear after a little digging. 

Predictably, the author is connected to NATO, via something called the Centre for Strategic Decision Research, a Paris-based talking shop funded by the likes of Lockheed Martin and Fire Eye. Its other backers include the US Department of Defense and Northrop Grumman and all these are the very entities who benefit from heightened tensions with Moscow. Thus, any angle which presents Russia as a threat to the western system is a boon to them.  

All this reminds me of a pretty good American magazine which I regularly bought as a student. You might remember it, because ‘Newsweek’ was the name. In those days, the Washington Post Company called the shots. Not the hysterical, Jeff Bezos owned, WaPo of today, but the Graham family version, which was often a great newspaper.  

Somewhere around 2008, running scared of the internet, Newsweek’s directors made a huge mistake: they dropped the emphasis on long-form news reportage which the title was famous for and made opinion and commentary the primary focus. As a result, sales imploded. Down from 3.1 million to 1.5 in just two years. Then, rather than reversing course, the bosses doubled down and hiked subscription prices, dreaming of wealthier subscribers attracting advertisers. That strategy also failed.  

Thus, by the end of 2010, the once mighty Newsweek had been sold for a dollar and incorporated into the tabloid ‘Daily Beast’ operation. That was another blunder and, in 2013, the magazine was buried.  

Futile Rebirth 

A year later, IBT media bought the name and launched a new publication under the Newsweek brand. But it’s important to note that this fresh entity is not the same product. Instead, it’s a strange construct that presents advertorials from NATO’s Atlantic Council appendage as if they were neutral comment and where accuracy in news reportage isn’t important to its editors.  

For instance, its launch cover story pointed to a man called Dorian Nakamoto of Los Angeles as the inventor of Bitcoin. However, it was pure codswallop and the yarn was quickly debunked and subsequently pulled from Newsweek’s website. From that ominous start, its penchant for “fake news” eventually extended its reach to Europe also. Such as when when it splashed a novice British hack’s assertion that East Ukrainian rebels were building a ‘dirty bomb.’ 

Of course, that was nonsense and based on a single source: Ukraine's, frankly delirious, intelligence service, the SBU. 

Yet, this impostor Newsweek had already become the butt of jokes in Russia after it ran a summer 2014 profile of Vladimir Putin, that would have had Hello! magazine’s editors reaching for the smelling salts. In the made up ‘bio’ we learned that the President apparently liked to sing songs with his English teacher and that his daughters lived abroad. The latter narrative has been widely punctured and the former is so ridiculous as to be beneath contempt. 

The author subsequently disappeared from the Russia beat and now covers local issues in England.  

For Newsweek to allege that Brexit might not be legitimate because of supposed Russian influence is probably a new low for a magazine which, in the name of internet clicks, has strayed very far from the traditions it inherited.

And it also begs one serious question: Should we place every country under a glass dome and block out all outside voices? Including Russia itself,where various western outlets – including the BBC, Deutsche Welle and RFE/RL – operate freely and could possibly persuade voters to oppose Putin? 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.