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Russian 'actors' tried to interfere with Britain's general election, U.K. government says

"The Government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election."
Image: Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab makes a statement on Hong Kong's national security legislation in London
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said any attempt to interfere in the U.K.'s democratic processes was "completely unacceptable."Hannah McKay / Reuters

LONDON — The United Kingdom said Thursday it was almost certain that "Russian actors" tried to interfere with its nationwide election last year.

The news came just as British, American and Canadian officials also accused Russian intelligence agencies of trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that last year's meddling involved unidentified Russians trying to amplify leaked U.K. government documents related to trade negations between London and Washington.

In a written statement to Britain's Parliament, Raab said there was "no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign" ahead of last year's Dec. 12 vote, in which his Conservative Party won a crushing victory over the opposition Labour Party.

But he added that "any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable."

"On the basis of extensive analysis, the government has concluded that it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 general election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked government documents," he said.

The leaked documents were first publicized by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at a news conference in the run-up to the vote.

Corbyn claimed they showed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would put the country's publicly funded National Health Service "up for sale" to secure a trade deal with President Donald Trump.

Before Corbyn cited it, the 451-page document was posted to Reddit. But the website took it down after it found out that the post was created by a new user and was being "upvoted," or approved, by other anonymous accounts.

Reddit launched an investigation because it believed the documents had been posted as "part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia," it said.

The British government did not comment at the time, saying only that its National Cyber Security Centre was investigating the matter.

On Thursday, Raab said that it was "an ongoing criminal investigation" and it would therefore be "inappropriate for us to say anything further at this point."

He did not say whether the "actors" mentioned in his statement were connected to the Russian government or President Vladimir Putin.

Russia denied it meddled in the U.K. election.

At a weekly briefing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Raab's statement "so vague and contradictory that it is almost impossible to understand."

"On the one hand, there is no evidence. On the other hand, there are possible retaliatory measures," she said. "These are mutually exclusive things. It seems that this is a new round based on the tactic of 'highly likely.'"

Raab's statement comes ahead of a long-delayed report into Russian interference into British democracy that is finally set to be released next week.

The issue of Russian interference has also loomed over President Donald Trump's time in office, with U.S. intelligence officials finding that the Kremlin worked to boost his candidacy in 2016, something Russia has always denied.