Was the UK OneWeb acquisition in support of Russia?

28th Jul 2020
Russian Soyuz rocket

The release of the Russia Report by the UK’s Intelligence and Security Committee did reveal one thing that the Space Industry in the country should be very concerned about. And that is, that that No. 10 did not see Russia as a threat to the country, but instead, had a closer relationship than possibly most people realised. Many news reports prior to the release of the document showed that senior UK officials, including Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister, had close relationships with equally senior acquaintances of Vladimir Putin.

And why is this relevant to the Space Industry?

Well it reveals that the government’s largest expenditure on Space-related projects… the £400m spent on rescuing OneWeb, benefited one country above all. And the due diligence process would have made that known. That beneficiary is Russia.

It’s important to point out that the £400m spent on acquiring the majority stake in OneWeb came out of the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF). Most NSSIF employees are former Foreign Office, Cabinet Office or Defence staff, all closely connected to 10 Downing Street.

Of course the reason given for the OneWeb purchase was something to do with filling the gap left by the UK opting out of the EU’s satellite navigation network. But the OneWeb satellite constellation’s primary purpose is for the provision of high speed broadband in places that are lacking in connectivity to the rest of the world. It is easy to see why the security services would be interested in operating a broadband network, although there is another factor at play which could go some way to explain why the government were so interested in the acquisition, and that it was possibly also a move to keep their Russian friends happy.

There is the question of $371m that OneWeb had agreed to pay Russia to launch its satellites onboard Russian Soyuz-2 rockets. They had already paid the Russians hundreds of millions of dollars in advance for a total of 21 Soyuz-2 rockets.

So, whilst the Russia Report revealed mostly nothing, it did actually reveal a very obvious fact. That either the UK government did not see Russia as any kind of threat anymore and as such did not see fit to investigate potential interference in UK elections or referendums or it has a cozy relationship with the country and as such chooses to allow activity that can be to the benefit of both countries. Such a relationship would go quite some way towards explaining the “unusual rescue bid for OneWeb”.

In an article published in The Telegraph this week, journalist James Cook wrote the following…

While the Russia Report focused on any potential interference into elections or referendums it did highlight a complacency with the British Intelligence services in regards to the former Soviet Union. When you connect this up to the Russian friends of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and others in the Conservative Party as well as the existence of the “Conservative Friends of Russia” group (now known as the “Westminster Russia Forum”) it can all start to make sense.

Back in November 2019 The Guardian published an article by Chris Bryant, former chair of the Parliamentary group on Russia, with the headline: “The Tories rely on Russian money – that’s why they ignore Russian meddling”. Deep in the middle of that article you will find the following paragraph…

“Tory government intended to “normalise” relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. So when David Cameron arrived in Downing Street he wiped the slate clean. Russia was one of the world’s major fast-growing economies. We needed to do more trade with Putin”.

Since then, Russian money has been constantly feeding into the Conservative Party’s coffers. So, it should come as no surprise that there will be “favours” handed back in return.

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