‘We have crushed the British to the ground!’ Russian ambassador’s words after Brexit vote

Russian tanks appear to pass by Belgorod Reservoir

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Fears have continued to mount in recent days that Russia is planning to invade its neighbour Ukraine. Between 169,000 and 190,000 Russian troops have been assembled near the border with Ukraine in both Russia and Belarus, according to the US government. The military build-up has prompted warnings by western leaders of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, something Moscow has repeatedly denied.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that US President Joe Biden had told western leaders of intelligence that suggested Russia would invade from the East, and also try to encircle the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

He told the BBC: “I’m afraid to say that the plan we are seeing is for something that could be really the biggest war in Europe since 1945, just in terms of sheer scale.”

Mr Biden has agreed “in principle” to hold a summit on the Ukraine crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although Moscow has said there are no “concrete plans” for a meeting.

Although relations between western nations and Russia are at a seriously low point, this is not the first time Moscow has been accused of acting in a threatening way.

Russia’s former ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko previously boasted that Russia had “crushed” the British after the public voted to leave the EU in 2016.

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The threatening comments are quoted in journalist Luke Harding’s book, ‘Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem, and Russia’s Remaking of the West’, published in 2020.

Speaking to a fellow diplomat, Mr Yakovenko reportedly said: “We have crushed the British to the ground.

“They are on their knees, and they will not rise for a very long time.”

Mr Yakovenko left London under a cloud in 2019 after the Mail on Sunday revealed he may have worked as a Soviet spy.

The diplomat still has a key role in Moscow as President of the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr Yakovenko’s comments about “crushing” Britain have been linked to alleged Russian interference in the June 2016 referendum on EU membership in which the UK voted to leave the 27-member bloc.

A report from 2020 by Parliament’s intelligence and security committee could not provide a definitive answer to whether Russia had meddled in the Brexit vote through tactics such as spreading disinformation online.

The report did, however, find that the Government had “not seen or sought evidence of successful interference in UK democratic processes” and had not attempted to do so.

Mr Harding came to his own conclusions about Russian interference in western affairs in ‘Shadow State’, which he discussed on The Guardian’s ‘Today in Focus’ podcast in 2020.

He said: “I think clearly that as a minimum the Russians carried out a kind of extensive espionage operation in support of Brexit.”

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The journalist said this was “comparable” or “on the same scale” as the alleged operation to help elect Donald Trump as US President in 2016.

He added: “These are twin operations: Brexit, Trump, Trump Brexit, often involving the same spies, the same trolls.

“There was a huge Russian troll campaign in support of Brexit run out of St Petersburg.

“The big picture is that Putin is not an evil supervillain sitting on a leather chair, flashing little red buttons on a console and making things happen all over the world.

“He is a classic KGB opportunist who sniffs out weakness and division in western societies and trying to exploit that to his own advantage and for Russian sovereign purposes.

“The point about the Trump vote and the Brexit vote is that they were both incredibly close.”

‘Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem, and Russia’s Remaking of the West’ was written by Luke Harding and published by Guardian Faber Publishing in 2020. It is available here.

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