Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North must have been watching Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Woodward and Bernstein. And his time was well spent too. This is what he asked:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether his Department has (a) funded, (b) provided contracts to and (c) procured the services of the Integrity Initiative in each financial year since 2015/16.
Sir Alan Duncan Minister of State for Europe and the Americas replied as follows:
The Institute for Statecraft is an independent, Scottish, charitable body whose work seeks to improve governance and enhance national security. They launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to defend democracy against disinformation.
In financial year 2017/18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft's Integrity Initiative £296,500. This financial year, the FCO is funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.
At the Eastern Partnership Summit in November 2017, the Prime Minister announced that the UK Government has committed £100m over five years to tackling this threat internationally.
Such funding furthers our commitment to producing important work to counter disinformation and other malign influence.
Over two million so far and a pot of up to £100 million over five years is good funding for an organisation with no employees registered at a semi-derelict mill in Fife. With backing like that it could really go places. Places like Brussels. For that was the location of the 5th Eastern Partnership summit held on the 24th of November 2017. As we have already mentioned, the Eastern Partnership is a Foreign and Commeonwealth Office programme. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, made the following remarks after this event:
We have just concluded the fifth Eastern Partnership Summit. It is only eight years ago that we launched the Eastern Partnership at a summit in Prague. I remember it well, because as the then Prime Minister of Poland I was one of the initiators. The reason for launching it was simple: we wanted to bring our European neighbours from the East closer to the EU. This required a more strategic and comprehensive approach towards the region, which had become the EU's immediate neighbourhood after the 2004 and 2007 enlargements. And we did this with a new ambitious offer of political and economic integration.
He went on to emphasise the trading and investment links to a impressive list of countries, foremost amongst which were Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Foremost because “... the European Union acknowledges [their] European aspirations" and "welcomes their European choice”.
Mr Tusk included an express warning to Russia and a statement regarding the Crimea which holds only the promise of future conflict:
But while there are indeed good prospects for the future, frozen and armed conflicts continue to prevent development and create hardships in Eastern Partnership countries. The death of five Ukrainian servicemen yesterday is just the latest proof of the tragic consequences of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The EU condemns Russia’s aggression and will never recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea.
This may seem bellicose, and excessively threatening. But it is mild when compared to the press release from No 10 as Mrs May left for this summit the day before, 23rd November. This included the financial commitments described by Sir Alan Duncan, and much more besides (emphasis added):
As the UK prepares for its exit from the EU, Theresa May will also welcome the unified approach to tackle threats and attempts of destabilisation from other foreign powers like Russia.
The Prime Minister will conclude by reaffirming the UK’s support to the region... we are also spending £100m over five years in the Eastern Neighbourhood to counter disinformation.
But we must also be open-eyed to the actions of hostile states like Russia which threaten this potential and attempt to tear our collective strength apart.
This summit highlights the crucial importance of the European countries working together to protect our shared values and ideals. The UK may be leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe, and we are unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.
This statement explicitly links the two areas which are the major UK Column News stories at present; EU Military Unification and the Anti-Russian Information War. They are right there in the prime-minister's press statement from a year ago:
- "A unified approach to tackle threats" which means EU Military Unification, and
- "Counter Disinformation" which is the Integrity Initiative and related programmes.
So we have started to follow the money and what have we learned?
- Britain may be leaving the EU, but that does not change the security arrangements
- Britain is "unconditionally" committed to the "collective" and "unified" defence of Europe, and that includes both the EU and those states that are presently outwith the EU and which border on Russia, termed the Eastern European Neighbourhood.
- The propaganda campaign that is being run through The Institute of Statecraft and Integrity Initiative is simply another aspect of a single, integrated strategy spanning the whole geopolitics of Europe and its "neighbourhood".
If you need confirmation of what exactly the current iteration of the neighbourhood looks like, the European Commission has prepared a map: