LONDON: Theresa May has accused Russia of running a covertly propaganda war using fake news to “sow discord” in the west and “meddle in elections”.
The prime minister said the West needed to tackle Putin’s regime which had become the biggest threat facing “open economies and free societies” across the globe.
“[Russia] is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions,” May said.
“So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”
In recent weeks Parliament’s ‘Fake news inquiry’ has requested information from Twitter and Facebook on the thousands of apparently Russian accounts that posted during the EU referendum, only to disappear shortly afterwards.
May’s government have warned that the spread of “fake news” websites could even lead to violence.
May’s deputy, Damian Green said last month that the current spread of “fake news” was “feeding an atmosphere of increasing hatred” that could lead to another murder of an MP.
May called on other European countries to join the UK in doing “what is necessary to protect ourselves.”
She accused Russia of engaging in a growing range of hostile actions against European countries.
“I want to be clear about the scale and nature of these actions,” she said.
“Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe. Since then, Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbas, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption. This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, among many others.”
May called on Russia to choose a different path.
“We will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity. But this is not where we want to be – and not the relationship with Russia we want,” she said.
“We do not want to return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation. So whilst we must beware, we also want to engage – which is why in the coming months the Foreign Secretary will be visiting Moscow.
“For there is another way. Many of us here looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. Because we know that a strong and prosperous Russia which plays by the rules would be in the interests of the United Kingdom, Europe and the world…”
“Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path. But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.”