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UK says Russia tried to meddle in election by leaking U.S. trade documents


By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said on Thursday Russia had tried to interfere in its 2019 general election by whipping up a furore online over illicitly acquired sensitive documents about a planned free trade agreement with Washington.

Russia, which has also faced allegations of trying to influence the outcome of elections in the United States and France, described the allegation as "so foggy and contradictory that it's practically impossible to understand it".

British foreign minister Dominic Raab said a government investigation had found that Russia tried repeatedly to meddle in last December's election won by the Conservative Party, though the ultimate aim was not immediately published.

"It is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked Government documents," Raab said in a statement.

"Sensitive government documents relating to the UK-US Free Trade Agreement were illicitly acquired before the 2019 General Election and disseminated online via the social media platform Reddit."

The investigation found that when these documents made little impact, further attempts were made to promote illicitly obtained material online before the election, Raab said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in the election against opposition Labour candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

"Whilst there is no evidence of a broad-spectrum Russian campaign against the General Election, any attempt to interfere in our democratic processes is completely unacceptable," Raab said. "The government reserves the right to respond with appropriate measures in the future."

RUSSIA TO SET OUT ITS RESPONSE

President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, has laughed off similar allegations in the past.

Raab made his comments hours after parliament's intelligence and security committee said it would publish a long-delayed report into Russian influence in British politics.

A spokesman for Johnson said it was "nonsense" to suggest the government had issued the statement to detract from that report.

Relations between London and Moscow hit a post-Cold War low in 2018 when Britain blamed Moscow for trying to kill former double agent Sergei Skripal with a Soviet-developed nerve agent on British soil. Russia denied it was to blame.

U.S. intelligence believes Russia also sought to intervene in the 2016 presidential election to help eventual winner Donald Trump, and French President Emmanuel Macron has scolded Russia for spreading fake news about him during a 2017 election.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; additional reporting by Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow, editing by Stephen Addison, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean)

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