Sunday

20th Jan 2019

British spies to help EU stop Russian meddling

  • The MI6 headquarters in London (Photo: Alex France)

Britain’s spy chief has promised to work with EU states to stop efforts to hack elections, amid multiplying concern on Russia’s “hybrid” attacks.

Alex Younger, who heads MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, said in a speech in London on Thursday (8 December) that one of his priorities was to counter “the increasingly dangerous phenomenon of hybrid warfare”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

He did not name Russia directly, but he said that “hostile” states were trying to “further their aims” via “cyber-attacks, propaganda [and] subversion of democratic process”.

“Our job is to … shine a light on these activities and to help our country and our allies, in particular across Europe, build the resilience they need to protect themselves,” he said.

“The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty; they should be a concern to all those who share democratic values”, he added.

The term hybrid warfare is commonly used to refer to Russia’s mix of covert military action, economic, and information warfare, as showcased in its attack on Ukraine.

US intelligence chiefs in October publicly accused Russia of disrupting the American elections.

They said “Russia’s senior-most officials” had authorised the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic Party to help its rival, the Russia-friendly Donald Trump, who went on to win.

Adam Schiff, a Democratic senator on the intelligence committee, also said at the time: “We’re … encouraging the [US] administration to work with our European partners, who have been the subject of even worse meddling, to coordinate a response to this”.

The concerns have been echoed by German spy chiefs and by chancellor Angela Merkel, who will fight for re-election next year against the Russia-friendly SPD party and the anti-EU AfD party.

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany’s BfV domestic intelligence agency, said in a statement on Thursday that Russia’s "disinformation" campaign aimed to “weaken or destabilise the Federal Republic of Germany.”

He added: “We see aggressive and increased cyber spying and cyber operations that could potentially endanger German government officials, members of parliament and employees of democratic parties”.

Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign service, the BND, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, in November, that “cyber-attacks are taking place that have no purpose other than to elicit political uncertainty”.

“The perpetrators are interested in delegitimising the democratic process as such … We have indications that [the attacks] come from the Russian region”.

France and Italy

France will also hold elections next year, with the Kremlin-funded and anti-EU National Front party doing well in polls.

Italy just held a referendum that toppled its pro-EU leader, Matteo Renzi, and boosted the standing of the anti-EU and Russia-friendly 5 Star Movement Party.

La Stampa, an Italian newspaper, reported that Russia-based blogs and social media accounts has promulgated fake news designed to harm Renzi.

Laura Boldrini, the parliament speaker, said afterward that Italy had to “act now” to halt media attacks.

Massimo D’Alema, a former Communist Italian PM, mocked the Russia allegations, however.

“I don’t believe there is dark, organised centre, a group of hackers in the Kremlin trying to affect the Italian referendum … I think they could care less”, he said.

Augustus Henning, a former head of Germany’s BND spy service, has also doubted the extent of Russia’s influence in Europe.

“I don’t see that Czechia is really challenged by Russia, nor is Poland’s internal structure. I don’t think Russia is so strong in the West”, he recently told EUobserver.

“The problem for Russia is that they don’t offer a very attractive model of society or the economy”, he said.

Brexit and Trump

With the UK preparing to leave the EU, Younger, the MI6 chief, said on Thursday that Britain would uphold intelligence cooperation “with our European partners, France and Germany foremost amongst them”.

With Trump’s win in the US creating further uncertainty on Western unity, Younger added: “I’m often asked what effect the big political changes of 2016, Brexit and the US election result, will have on these relationships. My answer is that I will aim for, and expect, continuity”.

“These relationships are long lasting and the personal bonds between us are strong. The threats that we faced before these events have not gone away”, he said.

Opinion

No joke: Russian propaganda poses EU threat

With the French and German elections at risk of Kremlin interference, it's time for the EU to start treating Russian propaganda as a serious threat.

Interview

Russia 'not so strong' inside EU as feared

Germany’s former spy chief has said Russian propaganda was failing to make an impact in Europe and that Russian intelligence was weaker than imagined.

Poland: Russia seeks 'new empire' in Europe

Polish minister said Russian military “aggression” in Europe was a threat even to "lucky" states, such as Ireland, which are not on the front line.

EU close to face-saving deal on Ukraine

Dutch PM Rutte seeks solution to the No vote on EU-Ukraine treaty. Meanwhile, diplomats say there is a “consensus” on the roll-over of Russia sanctions.

Russia courts Serbia amid EU dispute

Serbian PM Vucic cut short a trip to Brussels, the same day as Russian foreign minister said the EU was pushing Balkan countries to "antagonise" Russia.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Analysis

China's 2019 growth outlook

As China's growth seems to be slowing, some observers see the country amid what the New York Times called a "severe downturn". As they mistake China's secular deceleration with cyclical fluctuations, they miss the rapid increase in Chinese living standards.

Opinion

The Azov crisis will backfire

Vladimir Putin's nightmare of Petro Poroshenko's re-election will be even certain as Ukrainians rally around the flag. Next March's election is not just to elect a new president but also a commander-in-chief to deal with five more years of Putin.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us