President Vladimir V. Putin “has deployed vast resources from criminal proceeds, as well as misappropriation of assets from the regime’s opponents and random victims, to fund and develop a non-Russian, Western ‘buffer network’ which has enabled the Russian state to infiltrate UK society and to conceal the underlying Russian controllers and their agendas,” he said in written testimony, which was first reported by CNN and obtained by The New York Times.
In an interview, Mr. Browder said the government’s decision was self-defeating. “From a P.R. strategy, it’s pretty dumb,” he said. “If they release it, they would get a day’s worth of bad headlines. Now, there are these conspiracy theories running around in London.”
In 2016, there was evidence that Russia tried to tip the referendum in favor of Britain leaving the European Union. More than 150,000 Russian-language Twitter accounts posted tens of thousands of messages in English urging people to vote “leave.” In an echo of the Russian campaign in the United States, many of those messages stoked fears about Muslims and other immigrants.
There was already some evidence of troubling activity in this election, said Martin Innes, the director of the crime and security research institute at Cardiff University. But he said it was difficult to determine who was behind it.
“Given the current political situation in the U.K., there is a clear opportunity for a disinformation actor to further their geopolitical interests by destabilizing the European Union or destabilizing NATO,” Mr. Innes said.
The political dynamics this time are somewhat different. Mr. Johnson has promised a swift Brexit, which would appeal to Russia, given its desire to weaken the European Union. But Mr. Johnson also favors close ties to the United States. His opponent, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, might delay or even reverse Brexit. But he, too, is a euroskeptic and would be likely to keep Washington at arm’s length.
“The unanswered question is whether in the Russian calculation, Britain is worth running an interference operation for,” said Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at Graphika, a form that specializes in mapping social media.