There’s only one person who’ll be genuinely pleased with the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report, finally revealed on Tuesday, and that’s Vladimir Putin. Russia emerges as an amorphous and formidable enemy — all the more so because the inconclusive and much-redacted report contains next to no substantiated allegations. Instead Russia appears as a phantom, unknowable menace, and this will spawn a thousand conspiracy theories far more corrosive and confusing to our politics than any Moscow-generated Twitter-storm or document leak.
There’s no smoking gun on Brexit. Yet the government-induced delay in publication allows anyone that way inclined to imagine a cover-up. Even the insistence that the state should do more to prevent Russian meddling plays into Putin’s hands. The fear of Russian interference in British elections creates chaos and division — and this, rather than any particular result, is Putin’s real goal.
Russia may be reeling from a collapse in oil prices and one of the highest rates of Covid-19 infection in the world, but Moscow relies on pushing the idea that it’s the West that is really in trouble, racked with violent culture wars and suffering from a profound loss of faith in its own values. The Kremlin’s new party line is: we may have it bad, but their crisis is much worse. And where Putin’s propagandists lead, its trolls and hackers follow.
If recent history is anything to go by, the raging divisions around the Black Lives Matter movement are also a sweet spot for Russian trolls set on fanning the flames of the West’s self-immolation — in the UK, in the EU and especially in America. A US Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2016 US presidential election concluded that a Russian fake-news campaign targeted ‘no single group… more than African-Americans’.