Boris Johnson must publish the so-called “Russia Report”. And without delay.
The whole episode is particularly peculiar. The inquiry, the main focus of which became the Skripal poisonings, began in November 2017. The results were passed to the PM in October last year. And yet, the only public knowledge of the report’s contents to date is almost entirely based upon conjecture.
Ostensibly, the reason for said delay is the prolonged formation of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC). Part of the reason for this is the barring of Theresa Villiers from joining the Committee after she defied the Conservative Party whip in a vote on food standards.
She was later brought back into the fold, however, and the members of the Committee – including Villiers – were appointed on 14th July.
Worryingly, this is the longest break for the ISC since its establishment in 1994. Until this week, it was the only Committee that Parliament had yet to appoint.
There have been multiple suggestions that the Report was purposefully not made public prior to the 2019 General Election for fears of the damage it might have done to Tory election hopes. Alistair Carmichael was right when he said that the delay left little doubt that Boris was avoiding the truth about the Tory party’s funding connections to Russian oligarchs.
The optics of a victorious Tory campaign flooded with the cash of those who are – or at least were – close to Putin would have been extremely poor. The newly self-proclaimed ‘party of the people’ would surely have drawn ire from Corbyn & co. if it emerged that it had been bankrolled by the fabulously wealthy – particularly after the May government had vowed to crack down on Russian money and influence. There is also always the angle, when it comes to large donations, of a perception of improper influence. What did the oligarchs (particularly given the sanctions on Russia) gain for their cash, one might reasonably ask?
Further, it is often the case that Russian oligarchs accumulated their wealth through dishonest, or at least ‘shady’ , means – especially after the collapse of the USSR and the turmoil that ensued in the 1990s. Is it proper for the Conservative Party to fund its campaigns through cash from those who may well have profited from corruption, skewed privatisations or their allyship with the rogue Putin regime, one may well muse, and justifiably so.
Indeed, such connections are worrying: take, for instance, the PM’s connection with Evgeny Lebedev, with whom he celebrated after the 2019 election victory. Lebedev indirectly owns the Evening Standard and The Independent. He publicly supported the annexation of Crimea.
More important, however, is the potential that the Brexit referendum was skewed, however slightly, by Russian interference. Boris himself has dismissed the suggestion of Kremlin interference in the EU referendum vote. That is doubtful.
Having interfered in elections across Western Europe, North America, and even as far afield as Zimbabwe and Madagascar – most infamously, of course, in the last U.S. Presidential Election – what possible reason would Putin and his cronies have for missing out on such a golden opportunity? Even more so than the 2016 Trump v Clinton battle, the Brexit referendum was the perfect opportunity to sow division between democratic nations, as well as within Britain.
The Times has reported that Russian interference may well have had an impact on the Brexit referendum, the effect it suggested was “unquantifiable”. That misses the point: even if Russian Twitter trolls or other such mediums influenced the election by an inconsequential fraction of a percent, the British public deserves, and needs, to know.
The report is also understood to criticise Britain’s intelligence services for their failings in devoting enough resources to tackling threats from the Russian regime. On that point, there is no debate: British politicians, as well as spooks, have long been soft on threats from autocratic regimes.
Over the years, multiple ‘deaths’ on the streets of London and the rest of the U.K. have almost irrefutably been linked to Russia’s security services. Alexander Litvinenko and the Skripals are just the two most (in)famous examples. Others are less well known.
Boris Berezovsky, a former Russian oligarch who had his TV channels wrested from him and was forced into exile, was found dead in his home in Berkshire in 2013. His death was recorded as an ‘open verdict’ after doubt was cast on his alleged ‘suicide’.
In 2018, Nikolai Glushkov, a fierce critic of Putin and a political asylum-seeker in the U.K., was found dead in London. His death is the subject of a murder investigation.
Clearly, then, the report has the potential to be explosive.
As this article was being written, it also transpired that Chris Grayling – the government’s choice for the role – had been beaten to the Chairmanship of the ISC by Dr. Julian Lewis. The government responded by kicking the latter out of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. The PM seems hell-bent on delaying the release of the report further.
Hillary Clinton was right when she asserted that everyone who votes in this country deserved to see the report before the election campaigns. Unfortunately, Boris evidently did not share that opinion.
The aforementioned developments surrounding the ISC raise hope; there are even suggestions the report could be released as early as next week.
Check back here for analysis of the Report once it is (hopefully) released.