The Kremlin has finetuned its electoral geopolitics. Russian machinations in elections on either side of the Atlantic have come under the spotlight with the latest claims that Vladimir Putin had influenced the 2017 General Election in the United Kingdom by using thousands of Twitter accounts to help the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, in the closing stages.
It is pretty obvious that the alleged meddling was timed with the uncertainty over Brexit. If the targeted beneficiary was Donald Trump in the US election of November 2016, it was Britain’s Labour leader last year.
Whereas the dubious strategy was able to ensure Hilary Clinton’s defeat, in the ultimate analysis it came a cropper in the UK where the Conservatives, led by Theresa May, turned up trumps. The psephological swing is not so much the point at issue as Russia’s meddling in the tryst with democracy, and in the two fountain-heads of the concept of governance.
This is the central issue, one that has distinctly accorded a spin on international game-theory, as unprecedented as it is dubious ~ decidedly a violation of the certitudes of international law. In Putin’s perspective, Mr Corbyn belongs to the category of fellow-travellers, an ideological affinity which raises the query now posed in the West ~ Is Corbyn Putin’s latest “useful idiot” in Europe? Strong words perhaps, but such intervention in offshore elections was an unknown phenomenon in the era preceding the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
It was a carefully calibrated endeavour by the Kremlin in the UK. An estimated 6,500 Russian accounts tweeted supportive messages for Labour and denigrated the Conservatives, according to a joint investigation by The Sunday Times and Swansea University. The bare contours are so astonishing as to be almost incredible.
Many of the accounts were what they call internet “bots” that used English names programmed to influence voters with orchestrated political messages. The findings tend to confirm claims made of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election in support of Donald Trump. “Extremely concerning,” was the immediate response of Britain’s Culture Secretary, Matt Hancock.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for any nation to attempt to interfere in the democratic elections of another country. The social media companies need to act to safeguard our democratic discourse and reveal what they know.” The disclosure is bound to sour Britain’s relations with Russia further still… and in the aftermath of Putin’s suspected hand in the nerve-agent attack on two MI5 operatives in Salisbury.
The revelation comes at a time when Mr Corbyn has been lampooned by critics over his apparent unwillingness to criticise Russia for the nerve-agent attack and the alleged chemical weapons outrage in Syria. The Russian tweets iterated publicity for Mr Corbyn’s rallies around the country, amplified criticism of Mrs May over police cuts following the Manchester Arena bombing, and on polling day itself sent messages urging Labour supporters to turn out and vote. The plot thickens.