Theresa May has accused Russia of using fake news and meddling in elections in order to cause chaos in the West.
In an extraordinary attack, the British Prime Minister warned of Kremlin attempts to “weaponise information” as she argued a Brexit trade deal would support Europe’s commitment to free societies in the face of Russian threats to the international order.
Addressing the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at the City of London’s Guildhall, May highlighted Russia’s incursion in Ukraine, violations of the air space of several European countries and “a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption”, including “meddling in elections” and hacking foreign ministries and parliaments.
The PM said Russia is seeking to “weaponise information” by planting “fake stories” and “photo-shopped images” in an attempt to “sow discord in the West and undermine our institutions”.
She told Moscow: “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.
“The UK will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.”
May also stressed the need to improve relations with Russia to avoid a return to the Cold War, saying: “While we must beware, we also want to engage.”
The Prime Minister stressed a “comprehensive new economic partnership” with the European Union would “underpin” that “shared commitment” as Moscow seeks to undermine Western values.
She reiterated Britain’s “unconditional” pledge to maintaining European security, including a proposed post-Brexit pact with the EU, while warning of the “scale and nature” of the threat from Russia.
May evoked the hope that greeted the fall of the Soviet Union, saying Britain and Russia should not be “in a state of perpetual confrontation”, and announced that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson will visit Moscow in the coming months for talks.
“We know that a strong and prosperous Russia which plays by the rules would be in the interests of the United Kingdom, Europe and the world.
“As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has the reach and the responsibility to play a vital role in promoting international stability.
“Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path.
“But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.”