Embassy Press Officer’s reply to a media question concerning the UK authorities’ reaction to Russia’s official requests following recent flagrant media publications
Question: The Embassy declared its intent to request clarifications from the British side following the recent accusations of cyberattacks, and the media reports on preparations for retaliatory cyberstrikes against targets in Russia. Has there been any response?
Answer: Today we have received a reply from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which implies that, as before, the British side is not going to provide us with any details that may serve as the basis of the accusations. In this case, we are not in a position to make comments on the essence of those accusations.
At the same time the FCO states that media publications should be considered a display of freedom of public debate into which the UK Government does not interfere. As for the alleged plans of carrying out cyberattacks against Russia, the FCO has confirmed that the UK does possess offensive cyber capabilities, but stated that it would be used solely in accordance with international law.
As far as we can judge, the British side thus dissociates itself from the irresponsible media publications and their anonymous sources which try to scare the public by scenarios of Russia “seizing islands off Estonia”, and threaten to “turn off the lights in Moscow”, etc. Although the presence of aggressive plans has not been denied directly, we assume that the United Kingdom, being a responsible member of international community and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will fulfill its promises to act in accordance with international law, including its fundamental prohibition against use or threat of force.
However, this reply by the FCO begs the question on how to treat leaks in the British media containing references to anonymous officials. In case their statements are distorted, let alone fabricated, the government must find a way to react by signaling to the British public and foreign states that it is a matter of fake news. Otherwise, the media can seriously harm the UK reputation in the eyes of many countries, something that can be already witnessed. Contrary to the FCO’s statements, this is not the case of free public debate, but an abuse of the freedom of press to the detriment of the reader.