On Tuesday, the country’s leading center-right newspaper splashed its front page with a headline that argued the dossier “points to Russians.”
Citing an investigation by the consulting firm Graphika, the Daily Telegraph wrote that senior members of the Conservative Party were now calling for Corbyn to “come clean.”
But wait — hasn’t the Conservative government been asked to come clean, too?
Yes, Johnson’s right-wing government has its own, unresolved issues with Russia. At the start of November, it was accused of sitting on a report that investigates possible Russian interference in British politics, delaying the release of the report’s supposedly damning findings until after the Dec. 12 vote.
“What on earth do they have to hide?” Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary for the opposition party Labour, said in the House of Commons.
Right now, no one is quite sure who, if anyone, is hiding what.
The dueling accusations have drawn criticism from some prominent British Russia-watchers. In a disgruntled Twitter thread, Mark Galeotti, an expert with Britain’s Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies, warned that vague accusations of Russian interference were “corrosive” for British politics.
“People mistrust politicians enough as is,” he said.
Already, Russia has become a dirty word in British politics. There have long been unproven rumors that Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union, the single most momentous British political decision in decades, had somehow been tampered with by Russians.
And Britain, home to numerous wealthy Russians, has seen a number of suspicious deaths in recent years that the British government has linked to possible Kremlin involvement. They have accused Russia of plots to kill exiles like Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who survived an assassination attempt in 2018.
Corbyn, an old-school leftist who is often suspicious of Western foreign policy, had been skeptical of Russian involvement in that crime. His concerns had centered instead on allegations of U.S. influence.
The leaked trade documents he unveiled last week had shown that Britain’s beloved but beleaguered National Health Service would be “for sale” in any post-Brexit trade deal with Washington.
But on Monday, as President Trump arrived in town for a NATO meeting, Graphika released the report that asked questions about where exactly that document had come from.
The 19-page report noted that the documents had been posted first to Reddit weeks ago by a user called Gregoriator, who made grammatical mistakes that matched those found in some suspected Russian misinformation efforts.
The initial publication was barely noticed but was picked up two days later by two German sites, meinbezirk.at and homment.com, and later shared on Twitter by an account called @Gregoriator that tweeted the link at prominent left-wing figures and liberal celebrities. Twitter has since suspended that account.
During this period, Corbyn had acquired a redacted version of the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request by the activist group Global Justice. At a debate with Johnson on Nov. 21, he showed this version of the documents.
Just eight days later, Corbyn held a news conference where he showed off the unredacted version. Labour has declined to discuss where this new version of the documents came from.
Graphika’s report concludes that the way the documents were initially leaked “closely resembles” known Russian operations, but that they “are not enough to provide conclusive attribution but are too close to be simply a coincidence.”
There has been no suggestion that the documents themselves were falsified. Graphika’s director of investigations, Ben Nimmo, said the biggest question was not who was behind the leak, but “how the unredacted documents ended up in their hands in the first place.”
Labour has refused to speculate, with a party spokesman telling the Guardian that given the documents’ contents, “it’s not surprising that there are attempts to muddy the waters to cover up what has been exposed.”
You’d think Britain’s prime minister might sympathize.
“This is Bermuda Triangle stuff,” Johnson complained at an appearance on BBC Question Time last month as members of the audience shouted questions about his handling of a report on Russian interference.
The report, titled simply “Russia” and produced by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, was finalized in March and sent to the prime minister’s office on Oct. 17. But it was not released before the election season started and Parliament was dissolved.
Critics of the government have accused Johnson of sitting on the report, which includes evidence from British intelligence agencies about alleged Russian interference in British elections and other possible threats.
“Every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told the BBC.
Only a few indications of what might be contained within have come out, with British media outlets reporting that one issue the report may have investigated was donations from Kremlin-linked business executives to the Conservatives.
At least one person is taking both claims lightly.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that the idea of Russian hackers was a “hackneyed cliche” that was used as a “bugbear for distracting attention from internal problems.”
“We’ve repeatedly come across such attempts, so we take them with a certain pinch of irony,” Peskov said, according to Tass news agency, saying the accusations against Russia did not include facts. “For this reason making any serious comments is impossible."