'Gravely concerning' claims of Russian interference in general election to spread support for Farage's Reform

Claims of Russian interference in the general election campaign are "gravely concerning", the deputy prime minister has said.

Oliver Dowden told Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that Moscow allegedly using Facebook pages to spread support for Nigel Farage "is a classic example from the Russian playbook".

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The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) says it has been monitoring five co-ordinated Facebook pages which have been spouting Kremlin talking points, with some posting in support of Reform UK.

Mr Dowden told Sky News: "This is something that I've warned about for some time.

"There is a threat in all elections, and indeed we see it in this election, from hostile state actors seeking to influence the outcome of the election campaign.

"Russia is a prime example of this and this is a classic example from the Russian playbook."

He added that this was a "low-level use of bots".

Mr Dowden earlier told The Sunday Times: "These revelations reveal the real risk our democracy faces in this uncertain world.

"Malign foreign actors, promoting British political parties, policies and views that fit their agenda is just another example of the challenges in the increasingly volatile cyberspace of the 21st century and is gravely concerning to see during an election campaign."

The newspaper reported that Conservative chairman Richard Holden has written to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, and Sir Tim Barrow, the national security adviser, asking for the claims to be investigated.

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According to ABC, the pages appeared to have little in common but were linked through an examination of the location data attached to the pages' administrators, the tracking of paid ads, and an analysis of the pages' similar or shared content.

The network of pages has a combined 190,000 followers, each featuring criticism of several UK political parties, including the Conservatives and Labour, the ABC says.

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The broadcaster also reportedly found most of the administrators for each page are based in Nigeria, which is a significant connection as previous online Russian propaganda networks were found to have been operating from Africa.

The reports come after Mr Farage faced a backlash for saying he blames the West and NATO for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Farage called it "cobblers" to claim bots generated by foreign state actors could interfere with the election outcome - as he launched a personal attack on Mr Dowden.

Asked about the deputy PM's comments, he told Trevor Phillips: "Oh, don't talk cobblers.

"I mean you had this bland fellow on earlier who apparently is the deputy prime minister, who no one knows who he is, and there he is saying, 'oh, there are Russian bots involved'.

"Hang on, did you ask him how many millions of pounds his party have taken from Russian sources over the course of the last few years?

"This is the Russia hoax."

Mr Farage went on to describe Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "very, very dangerous" man.

"I abhor what he's done in Ukraine. Totally and utterly," he said.

"But I was far sighted. I saw this coming."