Russia probably did interfere in our electoral process - but to what extent?

By Alex Yeo

The Russia Report sent shockwaves throughout the British political scene last week. The report, in summary, provided evidence that Russia interfered or attempted to interfere in the United Kingdom’s electoral process, namely in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and the 2016 Brexit vote. Furthermore, it stated that the Government, under the leadership of the Conservative party, not only did nothing to try and stop this but also avoided investigating the matter.

With all this coming out of one report, it’s very easy to assume that the Russian government played a huge role in the outcomes of both referendums and that our democracy is under the control of Moscow. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Russia's Aims

The results do seem to match the aims that Russia would have when attempting something like this. Russia’s foreign policy aims are myriad and extend much further than merely contesting the West. Russia, of course, was once the heart of one of the most powerful states in the world, the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had vast quantities of resources at its disposal when dealing with foreign policy. This has, of course, changed, and Russia as such needed to change how it conducted its foreign dealings. To add to this, the European Union and NATO began to, as Russia’s leadership saw it, encroach on Russia’s sphere of influence. In short, policymakers in Russia have come to the conclusion that they are under a threat from the West that is greater than that which they faced in the Cold War but have fewer resources available to counter it.

This forms the backdrop for Russia’s goals in interfering/undermining electoral processes in the UK. In the cases of Indyref and Brexit, the aim would be to cause disruption to both the UK and the European Union. The UK formed a key part of the EU, continues to play a leading role in NATO, and has a seat on the UNSC. By interfering in IndyRef, it is likely that the Russian leadership hoped that an independent Scotland would greatly diminish the influence of the UK globally, perhaps even bringing into question its place in the UNSC. For Brexit, Russia’s hopes may not be for a complete collapse of the EU, which is merely a fantasy held by the most ardent Eurosceptics, but to both isolate Britain and cause disruption in the EU by shifting focus to Brexit and making clear the faultlines within the Union.