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By Michael Hartfield
On Wednesday 23rd November the Henry Jackson Society were delighted to launch Dr. Andrew Foxall’s report ‘Putin’s Useful Idiots’, to discuss the Kremlin’s network of political influence in the UK. Dr Foxall was joined by Peter Pomerantsev and MP Ian Austin in a highly insightful and informative discussion. Dr Foxall begun the event by paying homage to Alexander Litvinenko on the 10th anniversary of his murder. He then emphasized the importance of clarification when analyzing his report. Firstly, Dr Foxall highlighted that the term ‘useful idiots’ is in fact a Leninist term. Dr Foxall also stressed that his report refers to both the Kremlin’s covert and overt – and intentional and unintentional – influence in the UK as many individuals, organizations and institutions’ worldviews often overlap with Russia. Although these organisations are not puppets, Russia exploits this opportunity. Dr Foxall stressed it is both necessary and regrettable that debate on Russia is polarized and called on attendees to not conflate his report with a McCarthyist witch hunt of pro-Russian institutions in the UK. Moreover, Dr Foxall highlighted that the report does not claim that anyone who has said anything pro-Russian is an idiot, nor a useful idiot. Although the report is neither an encyclopedia of people who have appeared on Russia Today nor it is it a call for individuals to not appear on the network, less obvious connections are just as important, if not more so. This is due to an ever increasing connection between the Kremlin with both Britain’s far left and far right. Dr Foxall cited examples of far right individuals like Nick Griffin and leftist organisations like Stop The War as being very supportive of Russia. Although Stop The War claims it is a pacifist organization, ironically it is supportive of Russia’s wars in both Georgia and Ukraine. However, in comparison to elsewhere in Europe, the UK is much less vulnerable to Russian influence and ‘it is still only on the fringes’. In addition, Dr Foxall highlighted that Russia’s success in terms of network influence is due to British weakness as the Kremlin aims to exploit populism, immigration, cultural change and exacerbate this divide and tension.
Peter Pomeranzev, author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, elaborated on this by highlighting that the report is a catch-22: ignore Russia at your peril or take them seriously and risk playing into their hands. Mr Pomeranzev highlighted the US Presidential Election as an example of this as they initially ignored the idea that Kremlin hacking could have an influence. This led to an American overreaction, with Hilary Clinton gifting Trump favour after favour as Trump tried to move closer to Putin than he already was. Dr Foxall added that there is a tendency to either blame Russia for everything or to not blame them for anything, thus downplaying their influence. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to do the latter. Mr Pomeranzev stressed that this information psychological war is all a part of Russia’s military official doctrine. Although Washington is aware of it, it is doing very little because they are weak and have failed to develop a language to counter this. Furthermore, the conventional thinking on Russia has always been that Russia is acting out of weakness as it seeks to be a global power but is vulnerable. However, Russia is no longer a middle-ranking country and we are yet to develop a language on a strong Russia. Mr Pomeranzev concluded the discussion by identifying a viable solution to the issue. Instead of reacting to the Kremlin’s taunting, the West must focus on the audience they are trying to influence.