‘Clear evidence’ Putin interfered with election results


There is “clear evidence” of direct Russian involvement in British elections, a Labour former minister has said. Former Europe minister Chris Bryant also warned that many believed some of the highest level security decisions affecting the UK had now been compromised by Russian interference, according to reports:

Speaking in the debate on the Criminal Finances Bill in the Commons this afternoon, he added: “(It has also affected) one of our closest allies… Cyprus, where much Russian money is stored away and laundered illegally and we are unable to prosecute in some of the cases we are talking about.

“The murder of Sergei [Magnitsky – right] and his posthumously being put on trial shows that Russia is a kleptocracy that is ruled by people who have stolen from the people and used every means to protect themselves and protect their positions,” he said. “It is the politics of jealousy.”

In their open-plan office overlooking a major thoroughfare in Brussels, an 11-person team known as East Stratcom, serves as Europe’s front line against this onslaught of fake news, The New York Times reports:

Created by the European Union to address “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns,” the team — composed of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists — tracks down reports to determine whether they are fake. Then, it debunks the stories for hapless readers. In the 16 months since the team has been on the job, it has discredited 2,500 stories, many with links to Russia. … The East Stratcom team is the first to admit that it is outgunned: The task is overwhelming, the volume of reports immense, the support to combat them scant. The team tries to debunk bogus items in real time on Facebook and Twitter and publishes daily reports and a weekly newsletter on fake stories to its more than 12,000 followers on social media.

“There are concerns shared by many governments that fake news could become weaponized,” said Damian Collins, a British politician in charge of a new parliamentary investigation examining the phenomenon. “The spread of this type of material could eventually undermine our democratic institutions.”

Battle of narratives

Russia is not behaving badly because it was provoked by the West, either with NATO expansion or with the European Union’s attempts to develop the ill-fated Eastern Partnership, The Economist’s Edward Lucas writes:

The real problem is the Kremlin’s view of history. We see the collapse of the Soviet empire as a liberation. Mr. Putin and his friends see it as a perhaps temporary geopolitical catastrophe. We would not expect the Dutch, Danes or Israelis to have friendly relations with a German leadership which mourned the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich. We should not apply a double standard to the victims of Stalin’s horrors.

Kremlin ideologists are deliberately seeking to weaponize a crude version of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ thesis, one observer suggests.

But Moscow’s information war against the West is weakening the EU’s resistance to attacks, Polish Member of European Parliament Anna Fotyga told a security conference in Lithuania Tuesday.

“Russia is using sophisticated methods of information warfare against western societies, making them less resistant to hybrid attacks,” Fotyga told the conference.

American tech giants also have stepped in after they were accused of not doing enough to counter false reports on their platforms, accusations that Facebook, Google and other companies deny. They are now funding initiatives in the United States, France and elsewhere to flag fake news online and remove posts if they are found to violate companies’ terms of use or local laws, The Times adds.

“This isn’t just about debunking falsehoods,” said Jenni Sargent, the managing director of First Draft News, a nonprofit that is partly funded by Google and expanding rapidly in France ahead of the country’s elections, as well as across Europe and beyond. “What we’re trying to do is to deal with the content as opposed to the source.”

A ‘hearts and minds’ campaign for Russians

Europe should develop a hearts and minds campaign addressed to Russian citizens, argues Samuel A. Greene, director of the Russia Institute at King’s College London.

“Europe’s approach to changing Russian behavior has typically taken the form of traditional ‘conditionality’ — that is, Europe has offered carrots to ordinary Russians, such as the prospect of visa-free travel or reduced trade barriers, conditional on the good behavior of the Russian government,” he writes for Foreign Policy. “But this approach has it backward: It asks Russian citizens to affect the decisions of a government over which they have no control, in exchange for freer movement of people, capital, and ideas. Consider what would happen if this logic were reversed,” he suggests:

What if Europe were to give non-elite Russians visa-free travel right now, with no strings attached? What if Europe were to give non-elite Russians visa-free travel right now, with no strings attached? Increase spending on mobility for students and academics by orders of magnitude, allowing Russians of ordinary means but extraordinary talents to study in Europe at European tuition rates? Allow access to European financial services and eased customs procedures for small- and medium-sized enterprises?

“If ordinary Russians are permitted to learn firsthand how Europe really functions and to leverage European educational, legal, and financial institutions to build their own stability and prosperity, the balance of power in Russia itself will begin to shift,” Greene suggests. RTWT

Anyone who has had business dealings with Russia enters a shadowy world of autocrats, kleptocrats, oligarchs, and organized crime—often with links to Russian intelligence, notes Jeffrey Gedmin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and a senior adviser at Blue Star Strategies. There are three reasons for concern, he writes for the Atlantic Council:

  • First, the appetite of Russian and allied intelligence services for information has always been insatiable. I knew of the Stasi through friends as “GHG,” for guckenhorchengreifen—watching, listening, nabbing. The Stasi bugged homes, hotels, classrooms, restaurants, automobiles, gas stations; even Catholic confessionals and seats in the Dresden opera house. They were directed by slogans like “Get Everything” and “Everyone’s a Potential Security Risk”; Stasi boss Erich Mielke kept a file on Erich Honecker, the head of East Germany’s communist party. The Stasi was assisted by a vast army of informers. So you didn’t want to rat out a neighbor? The price might be that the heart medication your mother depended on would suddenly disappear from the pharmacy…
  • Second, the Russians have never been bashful in their foreign operations. In the early 1970s, a Stasi spy named Guenter Guillaume ascended to become a top aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Guillaume’s discovery by West German counterintelligence led to Brandt’s resignation in 1973. The Soviets actually tried to get the East Germans to withdraw Guillaume shortly before he was identified, fearful that his arrest would lead to an end of Bonn’s policy of detente toward the Soviet Union….
  • Finally, it was in Dresden that Putin learned about the fragility of authoritarian regimes. The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, and as I joined jubilant friends in marches through the city that winter, Putin began closing up shop, reflective and ready to return to Moscow. Now, as president, he maintains the firmest of grips on power. And he seems to have come to the conclusion that Western democracies today are themselves no longer as sturdy as they once were, and could potentially crumple as easily as the GDR did.

“In Putin’s likely view of things, a little hacking in elections, a dose of propaganda and disinformation, a dash of espionage—aided by complacency, naïveté, and a new moral equivalence in the West—might just add up to a decisive advantage for Moscow,” Gedmin notes. “This is a Russian regime bent on dividing our allies in Europe, cutting America down, and fomenting turmoil in the democratic world.”

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