A long-awaited report on the alleged Russian threat to the UK and what measures are being taken to counter it is due to be published later.
Relations between the two countries have been under severe strain for the past few years, so what will the intelligence and security committee’s report tell us?
What is the Russia report?
The report, said to be around 50 pages long, is the result of an inquiry by parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) into Russian activities against the UK.
It will explore suspicions of Russian meddling in UK elections and referendums, consider Russia-linked donations to political parties, Russian money in the City of London, cyber attacks, espionage and even assassinations.
Why does it matter?
This is an attempt by a group of MPs with privileged access to secret information to shine a light on the murky world of alleged Russian meddling in the UK’s affairs.
It follows similarly-themed inquiries in the United States amid concerns – denied by the Kremlin – that Moscow is attempting to undermine and divide alliances such as NATO and the European Union.
What should we expect from the report?
The report is expected to state that Russia tried to influence the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
It will characterise the Kremlin’s alleged actions as the “first post-Soviet interference in a Western democratic election”, a Whitehall source said.
The finding was first reported by the Daily Telegraph, though the source was unable to confirm whether – as reported by the newspaper – the inquiry reveals no attempt by Russia to interfere in the Brexit vote. The government has previously said there was no evidence of “successful” interference.
Election interference could come in the form of disinformation to support or undermine a particular side. The Kremlin has previously been accused of disseminating fake news and controversial voices via state-backed news outlets like RT and Sputnik or automated bot and troll accounts on social media channels such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
The report is expected to reference Russian links to donations to political parties – a subject that is particularly sensitive for the Conservatives, though it is doubtful there will be any bombshell revelations.
It will cover alleged Russian cyber attacks and the attempted killing of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2018. It may also touch on a number of deaths in the UK linked to Russia.
As well as assessing the threat, the report will explore the UK’s responses and will likely make suggestions for what more the country should do to deter aggression.
Any particularly juicy elements will most likely be redacted as the intelligence and security agencies as well as the government have to remove any sections from the publicly releasable version that could affect national security.
Who contributed to this inquiry?
Top officers from spy agencies MI6, MI5 and GCHQ gave evidence to the committee as did a number of expert witnesses, including former MI6 officer Christopher Steele, who authored a report into alleged links between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
How long did the report take to be released?
The ISC said it would investigate Russian activities in the UK in November 2017. The formal inquiry did not interview witnesses until the following year. It was finalised and cleared for publication through official channels by October 2019.
However Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to give the final green light for its release before parliament dissolved for the December general election, despite an outcry in parliament. At that point the ISC had to disband as well and only reconstituted last week – an unprecedented delay.
Mr Johnson has been blamed for taking so long to sign off the membership of the cross-party group. In a final twist, Chris Grayling, a former transport minister, failed in a bid to become chair of the committee even though he was the government’s preferred choice.
Instead, veteran Tory MP Julian Lewis succeeded. However, he was kicked out of the Parliamentary Conservative Party – a move that he has called “strange”.