The Kremlin’s Sleight of Hand: Russia’s Soft Power Offensive in the UK

By Dr Andrew Foxall

Russia is pursuing an aggressive assault on UK institutions, reveals The Henry Jackson Society’s report The Kremlin’s Sleight of Hand: Russia’s Soft Power Offensive in the UK

Although President Putin’s use of hard power has been reported at length since his country’s invasion of Ukraine last year, little has yet been said about the Kremlin’s sinister use of soft power in the UK, beyond its international rolling-news channel, RT.

The goals and methods that define Russia’s activities in Britain’s economic, cultural, educational and political landscape undermine the UK’s core principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Kremlin uses soft power not only to advance its interests, but to halt the spread of ideas that provide an alternative to its authoritarian model of governance.

Highlighting weaknesses that have allowed Russia to penetrate British institutions, the paper calls for the UK to go further than simply condemning the Kremlin for its disruptive and deadly meddling in eastern Europe, but also to take a long, hard look at its own acquiescence in facilitating it.

In analysing Russia’s use of soft power in the UK, the report raises several key points, including:

  • Since the mid-2000s, the Russian government has invested significant effort, intellectual endeavour, and money to increase the country’s international appeal. The Kremlin has established cultural, educational, media, political and other organisations that appear at first glance to be unbiased but which unapologetically promote a worldview consistent with its own.
  • In the UK, Russia has undertaken a marked soft power offensive over the past decade, and with some success. The goals and methods that define Russia’s public diplomacy efforts, however, pose a challenge to the UK’s national interests as Russia’s actions have become more egregious. Russia’s influence is also counter to the UK’s core values.
  • While there is nothing illegitimate about Russia using soft power to advance its policy objectives, there are a number of initiatives the UK could undertake to highlight the extent of Russia’s influence, to expose Russia’s ‘useful idiots’, and to combat Russia’s lies.

Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russia Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society and author of the report, commented: “For years, the British political elite prioritised diplomatic relations with Russia ahead of exposing the truth about Vladimir Putin’s mafia state.

“This has now changed – and the ongoing Litvinenko inquiry is evidence of this. But the result of turning a blind-eye for so long is that Russia has significant influence in London – in art galleries, banks, football clubs, media, and politics.

“Of course, Britain is not as exposed to Russian aggression as Eastern Europe, but the Kremlin’s activities in London are part of the same tool kit as the violence we see in Ukraine.”

 The Kremlin’s Sleight of Hand: Russia’s Soft Power Offensive in the UK is available to download here.



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