Possible Russian interference in the Stoke by-election

  • Pro-Russian Twitter accounts target the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.
  • Automated Twitter bots suspected of being engaged in “astroturfing” operation.
  • Moscow accused of cyber warfare against Western democracies.
  • Corbyn is seen favourably by Russian government.

LONDON — Russia has been accused of interfering in this Thursday’s crucial Stoke-on-Trent Central by-lection.

A network of pro-Russian Twitter accounts have been identified attempting to swing the election in favour of Labour and against Paul Nuttall and UKIP, according to the BBC.

The multiple accounts were first identified by researcher Alex King as posting pro-Russia, anti-Ukraine propaganda.

However, in recent weeks they have switched to pumping out memes and hashtags that target UKIP leader Paul Nuttall in an apparent attempt to swing the election to Labour.

One Tweet included a meme attacking Nuttall for the false claim to have lost friends in the Hillsborough disaster.

“UKIP’s Nuttall lied about ‘close friends’ at Hillsborough,” it reads.

“Can this man be trusted? Don’t vote Nuttall.”

Russia has previously been accused of using automated Twitter bots in a so-called “astroturfing” attempt to undermine Western democracies.

A report by Atlantic Council last year suggested that Russia is actively trying to gain a foothold in British politics. It identified both Labour and UKIP as targets for Russian influence.

Russian interference

There is no suggestion that either party has solicited support from Moscow.

However, the report notes that Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader was greeted warmly by the Russians, with their UK ambassador praising it as a “radical breakthrough in British politics.”

Alexander Yakovenko told Russian television: “It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Jeremy Corbyn being elected.

“This is nothing short of a radical breakthrough in [the] British politics of the last 30 years, which have never stepped beyond the so-called Thatcherist neo-liberal consensus of the establishment.”

Corbyn and his official spokesman Seumas Milne also both have a long record of opposition to NATO and Western powers. Last year Milne broke off communications with Westminster journalist after a number of publications named him as briefing that the focus on Russian atrocities in Syria “diverts attention” from atrocities committed by the West.

Russia have also been accused of interfering in the EU referendum.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has claimed that hackers attempted to sway the result last June.

“I don’t think we have even begun to wake up to what Russia is doing when it comes to cyber warfare,” Bradshaw told the House of Commons in December.

“Not only their interference, now proven, in the American presidential campaign, probably in our own referendum last year.”

The UK, like other European countries, has strict laws against the foreign funding of British elections.

However, US intelligence agencies were last year instructed to conduct an investigation into the clandestine funding of European political parties by Russia. Moscow has been accused of seeking to boost both far right and far left parties in Europe in an attempt to “divide and rule” the continent. Last year French National Front leader Marine le Pen was forced to deny that her party had been funded by Moscow, after it was revealed it sought a large loan from a Russian bank.

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