UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has attacked Russia for “weaponising misinformation” in what he called the “post-truth age”.
In comments reported by The Guardian, Fallon blamed Russia for helping create the fake news era and accused the world’s largest country of targeting smaller countries such as Montenegro, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Germany, France and the US.
Fallon said: “Today we see a country that, in weaponising misinformation, has created what we might now see as the post-truth age. Part of that is the use of cyber-weaponry to disrupt critical infrastructure and disable democratic machinery.”
He added, however, that western countries need to continue dialogue with Russia, and welcomed US President Donald Trump’s comments about the “need for engagement with Russia”.
But he warned that the west needs to be realistic about the relationship, saying that “engagement is an equation of risk versus reward”.
“Above all, we must not accept as any kind of new normal Russia’s propaganda, whether overt or covert, its easy disregard for hard facts and numbers, or its blatant distortions and evasions,” he said.
Russia has been criticised by the US for its cyber warfare activities, which according to US intelligence authorities included the hacking of the US presidential elections.
Russian hackers are accused by the US of damaging Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helping Trump into the White House.
The episode resulted in the then President Barack Obama to expel a number of Russian “spies” from the US, and a frosty relationship has prevailed ever since.
Russian authorities have denied the allegations, saying they have not been spying on anyone, least of all the US, with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “These are baseless allegations substantiated with nothing, done on a rather amateurish, emotional level. We still don’t know what data is really being used by those who present such unfounded accusations.”
But in the latest development, Putin has arrested a number of Federal Security Service officers and an employee of cyber security firm Kaspersky, and charged them with “state treason and cooperating with US intelligence services”, according to one of their lawyers, Ivan Pavlov.
Fallon also addressed the perception that Trump believes Nato is becoming less relevant in today’s world. He suggested the perception is wrong.
Fallon said Trump was “100 per cent backing Nato”, but added that the organisation needs to “raise its game” and become “more agile, resilient and better configured to operate in the contemporary environment including against hybrid and cyber-attacks”.
He said that KGB spy Putin’s sophisticated cyber attacks were designed to destabilise the West, a sentiment echoed by US political and security leaders.
Fallon said: “Russia is clearly testing Nato and the west… We must counter Putin’s Pravda with faster truth … We need to call out messengers such as RT [the Russia Today television channel].”
Fallon accused the Russian government of routinely lying. “There is a special Russian word for this. Not ‘maskirovka’, the old deception perpetrated by its intelligence agencies, but ‘vranyo’, where the listener knows the speaker is lying and the speaker knows the listener knows he is lying but keeps lying anyway.”