Russia Is Using Propaganda and Cyberattacks to 'Sow Dissension and Undermine Democracy in Britain'

Russia poses an increasing threat and is willing to use propaganda, subversion and cyber-attacks to undermine Britain and the rest of Europe, Britain's national security adviser said on Monday, December 18.

Mark Sedwill, who is overseeing a review of Britain's security services, told a parliamentary committee that Russia is attempting to "sow dissension" and undermine democracy in Britain and other Western nations.

He said the threats from Russia ranged from unconventional warfare such as disinformation campaigns to the dangers posed from an increase in its military capability in the North Atlantic and in Eastern Europe.

"We know that the Russian threat is definitely intensifying and diversifying," Sedwill said. "The Russian attitude has worsened more generally towards the West and that seems set to continue."

Britain has been more vocal in recent weeks about the threat posed by Russia at a time when there is growing concern among some members of the ruling Conservative Party about the impact of cuts to defense spending.

Prime Minister Theresa May last month in her most outspoken attack on Russia accused the country of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media.

The head of Britain's armed forces said last week that trade and the internet are at risk from a Russian attack on underwater communication cables that could disrupt trillions of dollars in financial transactions.

Theresa May and Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on September 4, 2016. Britain's national security adviser has warned Russia poses an increasing threat and is willing to use propaganda, subversion and cyber-attacks to undermine democracy in Britain. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images

Sedwill accused Russia of planting fake stories in the media about the conduct of soldiers in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops are based, to undermine the legitimacy of them being there.

He also accused Russia of meddling in the recent French elections even though he said this had no chance of changing the outcome of the vote.

"It clearly was designed to undermine the citizen's trust in their systems and we see quite a lot elsewhere," he said.

Sedwill's comments came as researchers at Cardiff University found that suspected Russia-linked Twitter accounts were used to spread disinformation and "expand the impact" of four terror attacks that occurred on British soil.

The report claims that at least 47 Russian Twitter accounts were used to influence and interfere with public debate following the terror attacks at Westminster Bridge, Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park.

"A significant aspect of these interference campaigns was the use of these accounts as 'sock puppets' – where interventions were made on both sides of polarized debates, amplifying their message and ramping up the level of discord and disagreement within public online debate," said the research.

Russia has not commented on the report, but it previously denied similar allegations.

Twitter said the accounts identified in the research "represent a tiny fraction (less than 0.01 percent) of the total tweets sent in the 24 hour period following each attack."

Earlier in December, Facebook published findings on an investigation into Russia's alleged attempt to influence the Brexit vote. The probe found that Russia's involvement amounted to only three paid advertisements.

Twitter had conducted a similar inquiry, which found six ads ads promoting referendum-related content.