Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday warned Russia that it will not succeed in its alleged attempts to hack western government departments, meddle in elections or what she called “weaponise information”.
Delivering a major foreign policy speech at the London Lord Mayor's annual banquet, May used unusually strong language against Russia even as she dwelt on the challenges caused by Brexit. She also reiterated her government’s commitment to strengthen defence ties with Europe and the United States.
She said any arrangement post-Brexit will include efforts to open economies and free societies, despite alleged attempts by states such as Russia to undermine them. She claimed Russia’s actions were threatening the international order.
“I want to be clear about the scale and nature of these actions. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe,” she said.
“Since then, Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbas, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption. This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish ministry of defence and the Bundestag, among many others.
“It is seeking to weaponise information. Deploying its state-run media organisations to plant fake stories and photoshopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions. So I have a very simple message for Russia.
“We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”
Britain, May said, will do what is necessary to protect itself, and work with allies.
“So we will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity. But this is not where we want to be – and not the relationship with Russia we want. We do not want to return to the Cold War, or to be in a state of perpetual confrontation,” she said.
“Many of us here looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. Because we know that a strong and prosperous Russia which plays by the rules would be in the interests of the UK, Europe and the world. Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path.”