‘At work across Europe & UK’: MI5 chief says Russia is growing threat to Britain

Russia poses an increasing threat to the UK and is using all the powers at its disposal to push its policies abroad, Director General of MI5 Andrew Parker told the Guardian.

“It [Russia] is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks. Russia is at work across Europe and in the UK today. It is MI5’s job to get in the way of that,” Parker said in the first interview by an incumbent chief since the service was founded over 100 years ago.

He added that Russia still has spies on the ground in the UK, but due to the development of cyberwarfare, ways and methods have been changing. Among the alleged targets he indicated, are military secrets, industrial projects, economic information and government and foreign policy.

“Russia increasingly seems to define itself by opposition to the West and seems to act accordingly,” Parker said.

“You can see that on the ground with Russia’s activities in Ukraine and Syria. But there is high-volume activity out of sight with the cyber-threat. Russia has been a covert threat for decades. What’s different these days is that there are more and more methods available,” he added.

This month, the UK officials aren’t the only ones poking and prodding Russia cyberwar-wise: about a fortnight ago, US intelligence officials told NBC that the Obama administration was contemplating an unprecedented cyber “clandestine” action against Russia in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the American presidential election.

Anti-Russia rhetoric in Britain has been worsening ever since before Brexit. In February, the UK’s top brass penned a letter for the Stay campaign waning that leaving the EU would see an increase of Islamic State attacks and the Russian threat, while Defence Secretary Michael Fallon insisted Brexit was “in Russia's interests.

After the Brexit vote, tensions were pushed to a new level: amidst Russia’s campaign in Syria, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson slammed Moscow as a “puppeteer” of the Assad regime and urged for protests outside the Russian embassy in London. This came on the heels of US Secretary of State John Kerry accusing Russia and Syria of committing daily “crimes against humanity” in Aleppo.

Following Johnson’s statement, the Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko demanded proof of “deliberate strikes against civilians” in Syria, and blasted the accusations as having “no grounds whatsoever.”

Last month, the Russian aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Kuznetzov’ and its group passing through the English Channel scooped an assortment of hyped headlines in the British press, while two UK Royal Airforce (RAF) combat jets flew over them in a “show of presence.” The planes were supposed to take photos of Russia’s only carrier and the seven ships accompanying it to find out what’s on the vessels, according to the Times.

At the same time, the UK’s accusations come amid the deployment of British troops, aircraft, and armor in Eastern Europe. What is viewed as the biggest buildup since the Cold War will see up to 800 armored infantry troops deployed to Estonia and Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter jets deployed to Romania.

Moscow has long frowned on NATO’s activities close to its borders and recent developments caused no enthusiasm. Aleksandr Grushko, Russia’s permanent representative to the alliance, called the Eastern European deployment “confrontational.”

“Military specialists from the alliance’s member states are implementing the decisions of the Warsaw summit [in July] and are fulfilling their confrontational schemes of military planning and military preparations in the territories along our borders,” the Russian diplomat said the previous week.

“Apart from that, they are making front-rank stockpiles of weapons and hardware in the Eastern European region, modernizing infrastructure for deployment of large army units, conducting an endless chain of drills – ground, sea and air – right at the Russian borders.”

“So the question arises: What’s next? A new wave of NATO’s speculations about the ‘Russian threat’ and a new round of arms race?” Grushko wondered. “We believe this is a road to nowhere.”

The Kremlin has responded to the accusations, with the statement from the president's press secretary Dmitry Peskov saying that “these words aren't true to reality, we can't agree with them.”

“We have repeatedly commented on the cyber attacks claims, <...> we can't in any way accept these unfounded statements,” Peskov added.

However, there was one thing the press secretary agreed with.

“Russia indeed uses all the ways to promote its interests abroad – but only those ways within the norms of international law. Moreover, Russia is guided [in its actions] by [the wish] to build kind and mutually-profitable relations,” Peskov said.

The Russian Embassy in the UK has also reacted to Parker’s statement in a post on its official Twitter account.