Allegations of Russian interference are ludicrous, says new ambassador

Yury Filatov accuses UK and US of blaming Moscow for their own failings

Trump and Putin: “We don’t have the slightest intention to do harm to the United States,” says Russia’s new ambassador to Ireland. Photograph: Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty

Trump and Putin: “We don’t have the slightest intention to do harm to the United States,” says Russia’s new ambassador to Ireland. Photograph: Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty

 

Russia’s new ambassador to Ireland has described allegations that Moscow is interfering in other countries’ democratic processes as ridiculous and ludicrous.

Yury Filatov, who presented his credentials to President Michael D Higgins on Tuesday, said Russia “completely rejects” the assumption that it has sought to interfere in last year’s US presidential election or Brexit referendum.

In a speech this week the British prime minister, Theresa May, accused Russia of “threatening the international order on which we all depend”. She said the United Kingdom would not tolerate its trying to undermine western institutions. “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.”

Mr Filatov accused Ms May and the Democratic Party in the United States of trying to scapegoat Russia for their own failures, and he likened Ms May’s allegations to trying to “extract light from a cucumber”.

“Our response to that is a cliche in Russia. When you have anything ridiculous, or out of this world, Russians say, ‘British scientists have discovered . . .’ It’s like April Fool’s Day,” he said, adding that Russia had its own problems to deal with. “We completely reject every assumption that some kind of operation is in place by the Russian government to influence anybody else. I’m at a loss to see what the purpose is.”

“I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed”: Theresa May makes her speech at the lord mayor’s banquet in London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
“I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed”: Theresa May makes her speech at the lord mayor’s banquet in London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
New ambassador: Yury Filatov presents his credentials to President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Maxwell
New ambassador: Yury Filatov presents his credentials to President Michael D Higgins. Photograph: Maxwell

Fake news

Russia has been accused of generating fake news and opinion through Twitter and Facebook. “The idea of influencing the elections is ludicrous,” Mr Filatov said. “The idea that some posts on Facebook could influence the mindset of American voters is nonsense. We have moved on from the Soviet era and state of mind. They” – Americans – “seem to be stuck with the old paradigm of zero-sum games, etc. We don’t have the slightest intention to do harm to the United States.”

Mr Filatov said he hoped Ireland and Russia could increase bilateral trade during his time as ambassador despite EU sanctions imposed after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. He said the embassy was involved in talks that could lead to direct flights between Dublin and Moscow. “We talking to some carriers, including Aeroflot. There might be a point of talking to Irish carriers.”

He estimates that Ireland has 10,000 Russian citizens – and about 80,000 Russian speakers from the old Soviet Union.

Mr Filatov acknowledged the Russian government had done nothing officially to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution last week. He said Vladimir Putin had recognised the revolution as an event of “enormous significance” that had left a complicated legacy, including the civil war that followed.

“Our president believes that is really so mixed. We are closing pages of this inner strife to rest in peace. We have to move forward. Revolutions are not a rosy affair, no matter where. You can’t cut out just one thing. The idea of the revolution was to create a communist society, real equality, justice and good conditions for life. These are progressive things. In practice, in real life, it proved to be very difficult.”

When French visitors to Shanghai in 1972 asked the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, about the effect of the French Revolution, almost 200 years earlier, he is said to have replied, “It’s too early to tell.” Mr Filatov said the same long-term approach should be adopted for the Russian Revolution.