Ready for more of Moscow's meddling?

Ready for more of Moscow's meddling?

This week, a hotly anticipated report released by a UK parliamentary committee alleged not only that agents of the Russian government have meddled in British politics for years, but that Britain's government bears much of the blame for allowing it to happen.


The report alleges that Russian security services used both hacking and disinformation campaigns to try to boost the cause of Scotland's exit from the UK ahead of the 2014 independence referendum. It also notes that, despite "credible open source commentary" on Russian meddling in Scotland, no action was taken to protect the 2016 Brexit vote, and that the current British government has taken no action to investigate Russia's role in that vote after the fact.

The report also notes that many wealthy Russians "with very close links to Putin have become part of the UK business and social scene" and that "a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state."

The report was completed before the December 2019 UK elections and therefore offers no information on potential Russian involvement there.

These findings will ring lots of bells for anyone familiar with the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. That report found that Russian intelligence officers, or their agents, had hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party communication systems and published private emails in order to embarrass both. They also used social media to spread false information in order to poison US public attitudes toward Clinton and Democrats.

A few quick points on UK and US parallels… and why this Russian meddling will continue.

First, neither the British nor US investigations found that Russia changed an election result. If Moscow wants Scottish independence, they'll have to try again. And though the Kremlin may have wanted both Brexit and a Trump presidency, there's no hard evidence that Vladimir Putin's operatives actually brought about either outcome.

Second, neither Mueller nor the UK report found evidence of a conspiracy between local politicians and Russia. The UK report alleges the British government doesn't want to look closely into Russian involvement in Brexit, but it doesn't accuse any British politician of working with Russian intelligence. The Mueller report noted "numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign" but found no evidence of any coordinated action to help Trump win.

Finally, all that said, there is plenty of American and British demand for what Russia is supplying. Increasingly intense political polarization in the UK and US provides fertile ground for the Kremlin's tactics — and the meddling itself then makes the polarization worse. Pro-Brexit and pro-Trump politicians may not have actively conspired with Russian agents, or even known what they were up to, but neither group has done much to prevent Russian meddling in the future. And many British and American voters choose to believe fake Internet stories that this or that hated politician is guilty of terrible crimes simply because they want to believe them.

The bottom line: The Kremlin is less concerned with the outcome of any single vote than with more generally sowing doubts about the integrity of elections and political institutions in the West. So far, it's working. Until governments in targeted countries find a way to hit the right Russian state officials and their backers exactly where it most hurts, Russian meddling will continue — in the 2020 US elections and beyond.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The Biden administration is finally devoting more attention to Southeast Asia. Last week US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines, marking the first regional visit by a Biden cabinet official. A trip by Vice President Kamala Harris is already in the works as well, and this week Secretary of State Tony Blinken will meet (virtually) with ASEAN counterparts.

The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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Raisi won't have it easy: The newly "elected" president of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, was officially endorsed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday. In his inaugural address, the 60-year-old hardliner pledged to get US sanctions removed and to respond to rising socioeconomic grievances within Iran, but he warned that he wouldn't lash Iran's prosperity or survival to "the will of foreigners." In Iran, the president's role focuses mainly on domestic policy, but with the economy reeling one of Raisi's big early challenges will be to continue complicated talks with the Biden administration to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which would lead to the US lifting some of the harshest sanctions. Both sides say they want a new deal, and have gone through half a dozen rounds of negotiations already, but they remain at odds over who should make what concessions first. Raisi also pledged to restore Iranians' flagging trust in their government and to improve the economic situation, but in ways that are in line with "revolutionary principles." He'll have his hands full with that. And don't forget that the likely imminent (re)takeover of neighboring Afghanistan by the Taliban — whom Tehran don't like at all — will also occur on Raisi's watch. Good luck, Mr. President, you'll need it.

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158: To boost vaccination rates, New York City will soon require proof of COVID vaccination or a negative test to enter gyms and restaurants, as daily new infections in the Big Apple have jumped 158 percent over the past two weeks due to the more contagious delta variant. New York is the first major US city to take this step, following similar schemes already in place in France and Italy.

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