Considering the close relationship between the U.S. and the U.K, especially when it comes to international relations and the sharing of intelligence, American fears regarding Russia’s meddled in their 2016 elections has likely tainted Britain’s view of Russia as well. It wasn’t just Americans who closely followed that electoral process—people around the world were biting their nails over the selection of the next U.S. President. To get a sense of the closeness of the U.S./U.K. relationship, just visualize the friendly body language between former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair and former President George W. Bush during the beginning of the most recent Iraq war. It’s also worth noting the two leaders represented nations involved in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Canada, Australia, and New Zealand-members of the British Commonwealth.
U.K./Russia relations are tense
Diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Russia probably aren’t the only reason why Britain views Russia with suspicion. In March, a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned in Salisbury, U.K.. The Guardian reported, “One of the two suspects in the Salisbury novichok poisoning has been identified as a highly decorated officer in Russia’s military intelligence service (GRU).”
The online investigative sites Bellingcat and the Insider uncovered information identifying one of the two suspects, previously named as Ruslan Boshirov, as Col. Anatoliy Chepiga, a special forces veteran. British investigators also believe one of the pair is Chepiga, a veteran of the war in Chechnya, who was awarded the country’s highest accolade as hero of the Russian Federation, in December 2014 when Russian officers were active in the Ukraine conflict.
The Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned along with his daughter, Yulia, in the nerve agent attack in Salisbury in the U.K. in March. Both later recovered but have remained out of public view. Another incident on November 21 illustrates the friction between the U.K. and Russia. A crew from Russian state-controlled broadcaster Channel One were accused of spying around the British Army’s secret cyber warfare headquarters. And Channel One reporter Timur Siraziev was spotted near the barracks of the British Army’s secretive 77th Brigade, which apparently specializes in non-lethal forms of psychological warfare.
British paper, The Mail, on Sunday reported seeing a copy of an “official-sensitive” report which features a photo of Toyota Avensis with Timur Siraziev inside, recorded by security cameras at the base in Hermitage, Berkshire, U.K. The report reads, “The two men approached the main entry point for the barracks where their vehicle was stopped. They attempted to gain entry presenting themselves as Russian media, claiming to be from ‘Channel One Russia,’ making follow up inquiries on ‘an article in the press.’ No access was gained and they were turned away.” According to the report, Siraziev was “active in reporting on the Salisbury nerve agent incident” back in July. The Russian Embassy claims Siraziev is the London bureau chief for Channel One. Considering what the men mentioned in the report appears honest, perhaps no suspicious motives were intended by the Channel One crew. They even appeared to be open about being Russian.
Siraziev told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that he had not tried to enter the base or do anything of a secretive or illegal manner. Channel One is considered by some to be a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin. So are the Channel One crew honest journalists or secret Russian spies? Your view will depend on how much you trust the U.K. or Russia.
MI6 chief made a speech
In the wake of the Channel One incident, MI6 chief Alexander Younger made a speech on Russian relations at Scotland’s St. Andrews University on December 3. MI6 is formally known as the U.K.’s Secret Intelligence Service.
Here are some of Mr. Younger’s thought-provoking statements: “The era of the fourth Industrial Revolution calls for a fourth-generation espionage. Fusing our traditional human skills with accelerated innovation, new partnerships and a mindset that mobilizes diversity and empowers the young.”
Regarding March’s incident in Salisbury: “(The U.K. ought to show Russia) whatever benefits it thinks it is accruing from this activity, they aren’t worth the risk… I should emphasize that event as the Russian state seeks to destabilize us, we do not seek to destabilize Russia. We do not seek an escalation. If we see a change in Russian behavior, we will respond positively. We will continue to defend the rule of law and the international rules-based system robustly.”
On the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), Younger said: “We are determined to attract people from the widest range of backgrounds to join SIS. This will enable us to bring the widest range of approaches to bear on solving complex problems and so make our missions even more effective.”
Regarding St. Andrews University, he said: “St. Andrews taught me to think in an open-minded way about the world. It taught me the value of the human curiosity and curiosity about humans that has propelled my career, and the career of the surprisingly large number of St. Andrews graduates in the ranks of SIS.”
More Russian cyber warfare may be on the horizon
Russia’s GRU have been linked to international cyber warfare. So Russian tensions with the U.K. do correlate with significant cybersecurity risks to British institutions and industries. The Independent reported: “The Russian military intelligence agency accused of the attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal has carried out a swathe of attacks in the U.K. and abroad on political institutions, financial systems, transport networks and the media, according to the British government.
This secret international cyber war has included the targeting of the U.S. presidential elections, which handed Donald Trump power, according to a new report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), as well the anti-doping watchdog in world sport. The report follows the statement by Theresa May that Britain and other allied countries will work together to expose the work of the GRU and the methods it uses.”
During the Cold War of the 20th century, the U.S. and the U.K. were worried about telephone spying and nuclear warfare. Now, in the 21st century, concerns pertain to internet spying and cyber warfare. The human elements of warfare seldom change, but the technical aspects of such conflicts are rapidly evolving.