Russian meddling in Europe
British sources revealed this week that Russian-linked Twitter accounts were used to influence British politics during the Brexit vote. This follows NY Times reports of similar accounts spreading Trump propaganda raised the issue to global attention. Following hacking accusations related to both the French Election and the regional referendum in Spain, Britain is the third case of Russian meddling in Europe politics.
Sources revealed that more than 150,000 Russian fake Twitter accounts posted almost 45,000 messages within the last 48 hours of last year’s Brexit referendum. The British government has consistently denied any evidence of Russian meddling. Yet on Monday night, Prime Minister May accused Putin of attempting to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in Europe.
Most of the Russian messages were intended to exaggerate fears about Muslims and immigrants to polarize the electorate. According to Jonathan Morgan, chief executive of the digital security firm New Knowledge, “many of these accounts strongly pushed the narrative that all Muslims should be equated with terrorists and made the case that Muslims should be banned from Europe.”
However, it seems unlikely that Putin uses these channels to propagate personal hate speech. Instead, many believe the meddling to be a consequence of Russian frustration with NATO expansion of the last decades in violation a 1990 agreement. After Putin publicly announced his plan for creative destruction to create a new world order, other reasons became possible.
Various media reports agree that Russian policy-makers believe that they have nothing to lose, which resulted in the current assumption that Putin, considering the world a zero-sum contest, simply takes pleasure in causing internal disagreements. However, weakening other global alliances might also serve the maintenance of his own authoritarian regime.
However, the Russian president has his own version of these events. He consistently discredits the accusations as unsustainable and hypocritical as they would simply serve the “blame Russia first” ethos of the West. While Trump believes the statements of Putin to be “sincere”, May takes a very clear stand: "I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed."
Thus, countermeasures to prevent future attacks are already in development. Internet firms, such as Twitter and Facebook, plan to exercise greater control of state-sponsored advertisements. Their disclosure of account records is one of the main pressures within this process.