With the Russian Brexit meddling story unravelling almost as badly as Brexit itself, Boris Johnson has found a new angle. The latest dead cat to grace the table is a cabal of “Russian trolls” on Facebook.
“There’s some evidence that there has been Russian trolling on Facebook,” Johnson said, referring to Brexit, in an interview with the Sunday Times as he elucidated his brand new theory of the Russian meddling in the fateful vote. At the same time, he admitted that he had “seen no evidence” of the Russian alleged meddling affecting the referendum outcome in any way.
With less than a dollar spent, it is hardly surprising that the outcome of the referendum was unaffected. Indeed, an investigation conducted by Facebook at the request of no less than the UK Electoral Commission revealed that Russia spent as much as 73p ($0.97) on ads to allegedly influence Brexit. And that is without mentioning the fact that the ads themselves were about migration and the wider European context.
It is not the first time the British foreign secretary has been forced to admit that there is no evidence Russia has ever sought to interfere with British votes; even within the last month he has done so at least twice. In late November, he told the House of Commons that the government saw “no evidence of any country successfully interfering with our robust electoral system.”
At the beginning of the same month, he also said that he had not seen any evidence of the Russian meddling, adding that as far as he knows “[the Russians] have played no role” in Brexit. Characteristically, though, Boris is thinking outside the box and all these admissions have not stopped him from throwing various accusations at Moscow – without providing any evidence.
In late November, right after stating that no one had interfered in the British electoral system, Johnson stated vaguely that “we know of course that Russia seeks to undermine our institutions.” This time he decided not to hold back, and accused Moscow of a multitude of sins.
He went as far as to call Russia a “closed, nasty, militaristic and antidemocratic” state, comparing it with ancient Sparta at the time of the Peloponnesian war. Dismissing this latest remark, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova somewhat coldly noted on her Facebook page that “Russia has never been a militaristic country, unlike the European states.”
She added that Johnson was right about one thing: the ongoing issues sown and stirred up by the West, on the European continent in particular, weaken Western civilization in the same way the Peloponnesian war denuded the readiness of both Sparta and Athens to face external enemies.
Meanwhile, regardless of whether Johnson is speaking about Brexit, relations with Russia or any other subject, one might point out that he does a more than adequate job of trolling himself. He has done so on many occasions, such as showing empathy with the victims of colonialism by quoting Kipling in Burma.
Then there was his statesmanlike grasp of the importance of information management, telling a parliamentary committee what a British Citizen was doing in Iran and thereby getting her thrown in jail. And Johnson set a new standard for political car-crash BBC interviews, during which he was likened to a figure from a classic comedy skit. And all that in the past six months alone.