‘No evidence’ Russia trying to disrupt UK democracy, but they can – Boris Johnson (VIDEO)
“We have no evidence the Russians are actually involved in trying to undermine our democratic processes,” Johnson told British ITV’s Peston on Sunday show.
“But what we do have is plenty of evidence that the Russians are capable of doing that,” he insisted adding that Russians “have been up to all sorts of dirty tricks.”
Remarkably, Johnson made these statements just weeks before his visit to Russia, during which he will meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. His visit would be the first made to Moscow by a British Foreign Minister in five years.
When asked what the UK’s approach to Russia should be now, he said that Britain needs to take “a twin-track approach” towards Russia.
“As the prime minister has said, we’ve got to engage but we have to beware,” Johnson stated.
Despite constantly saying there was solid proof that Russia had meddled in the affairs of other countries, such as by bringing down French TV stations and interfering in US elections, he failed to provide any concrete evidence to back his accusations.
Johnson also implicated that Russia was involved in the situation in Montenegro, where a group of Serbian nationalists was arrested in October of 2016 suspected of planning to carry out armed attacks on the day of the country’s parliamentary elections.
The British Telegraph newspaper later reported that the group was sponsored and controlled by the Russian intelligence officers and had actually tried to stage a coup targeting its Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic with “the support and blessing” of Moscow.
However, the paper’s report turned out to be based mostly on the assumptions of unidentified sources and Montenegrin Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, Milivoje Katnic, confirmed that, despite the participation of several suspected “nationalists from Russia,” there was no “evidence that the state of Russia is involved in any sense.”
The interview with Johnson comes shortly after the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s intelligence and security organization, sent a letter of advice to the UK’s major political parties informing them about how to defend themselves from cyberattacks launched by Russian hackers.
The letter, which was written by the chief executive of its National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), Ciaran Martin, warns that the internal databases containing British voters’ political persuasions and personal information, which is collected by UK parties during campaigns, as well as internal emails, could be at risk, the Sunday Times reported.
“You will be aware of the coverage of events in the United States, Germany and elsewhere reminding us of the potential for hostile action against the UK political system. This is not just about the network security of political parties’ own systems. Attacks against our democratic processes go beyond this and can include attacks on parliament, constituency offices, think tanks and pressure groups and individuals’ email accounts,” the document says.
‘Ridiculous to think Russia could meddle in domestic affairs’ – Russian envoy
In the meantime, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, expressed hope that Johnson’s visit will contribute to the resumption of a pragmatic dialogue between the two countries based on mutual respect, the Sunday Express reported.
While the ambassador admitted that the British foreign secretary’s visit would come “at a time when our official bilateral relationship is at the lowest point after the Cold War,” he said that Russia hopes “it [the visit] means that our British partners are interested in resumption of political dialogue.”
At the same time, Yakovenko also said Russia does not “need a cozy relationship with Britain, just one based on mutual respect and national interest.”
“The rhetoric does matter, but without a positive agenda, it becomes an end in itself,” he added.
The ambassador also reiterated that “Russia poses a threat to no one, including the Baltic States” and has no intention of influencing the political processes of any foreign countries.
“It sounds ridiculous that Russia could influence the Western nations’ domestic affairs. Certainly, we have our views to air on various issues of public interest,” he said.
The ambassador also criticized Johnson’s most recent statements, saying that the anti-Russian campaign in the UK “should be toned down, and whatever evidence there is to support accusations against Russia, it should be made public.”