Russian interference has been very much in the news in the past couple of months, as the parliamentary intelligence and security committee reported in July about the complete lack of interest shown by government regarding Russian meddling in our politics.
At the same time, Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem and Russia’s Remaking of the West, was published, which rather fortuitously explains the background and detail of exactly what has been going on.
It is written by Luke Harding, a Guardian journalist, who was the paper’s Moscow Bureau chief until he got deported from the country – and is the latest in a sequence of books he has written about Putin’s Russia and its impact on the world.
This book describes how Putin got involved with Western democracies, how his intelligence agencies – which seem to be the strongest part of the Russian state – meddle in Western elections, be that either hiring hundreds of low level actors to hack in to Hillary Clinton’s team’s emails, or fuelling divisions and hatred by posting incendiary comments on social media.
Drawing from the results of the Mueller report – which he describes as a ‘historic miss’ – but also from his own contacts, he documents the industrialisation of Russian hacking and social media posting, as Putin tries to undermine Western democracy in an attempt to return the world to a regime of ‘great powers’, of which Russia would be one, economic decline notwithstanding.
But while the detailed descriptions of widespread, but low-level, Russian meddling is eye-opening enough, more worrying are the connections made between Russian spies, some of whom operate out of Russian embassies, with politicians.
While Mr Harding clearly does not have the full picture – and we could not expect him to – he details much contact between Russian operatives and key people in UK and US politics.
Mr Harding also describes Russia’s influence on British politics, for example how a Russian spy based in London initiated a pro-Kremlin parliamentary group, called the Conservative Friends of Russia.
Mr Harding says: “The real objective was to rewire the Conservative party, making it more Kremlin-friendly after the Litvinenko fiasco... With time they might be encouraged to do Moscow’s bidding or even become targets for recruitment.”
For anyone with an interest in what is going on in Russia and its involvement with the West, Shadow State is an enlightening, and at times, scary read.
It is also a gripping book, and one can not help but come away and see the relationship between Russia and the West somewhat differently.
Melanie Tringham is features editor of Financial Adviser and FTAdviser