Russia ramping up foreign influence operations


Russia is ramping up its foreign influence operations, according to the U.S. State Department.

“The Kremlin and its proxies have transferred these funds in an effort to shape foreign political environments in Moscow’s favor,” it states in a newly released cable.

Russia has covertly given at least $300 million to political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, and plans to transfer hundreds of millions more, with the goal of exerting political influence and swaying elections, The Times reports. Russia has probably given even more that has gone undetected, the document said.

A State Department démarche Monday to U.S. embassies in more than 100 countries described the alleged Russian activities and suggested steps the United States and its allies can take to push back, including sanctions, travel bans or the expulsion of suspected Russian spies involved in political financing activities, The Post reports. Countries where such activities were identified included Albania, Montenegro, Madagascar and, potentially, Ecuador, according to an administration source familiar with the matter.

Earlier this week, the State Department strongly criticized Russia for making what it called “spurious allegations” that the United States operated clandestine biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine, The Times adds. The department accused Russia of abusing the formal review process of the Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty barring the manufacturing and use of deadly toxins or pathogens, to continue spreading disinformation to justify the war in Ukraine.

Credit: State Dept.

“In the coming months, Russia may increasingly rely on its covert influence toolkit, including covert political financing, in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia in an attempt to undermine the efficacy of international sanctions and maintain its influence in these regions amid its ongoing war in Ukraine,” the cable said.

Two-fold benefits

“For Russia, the benefits of ‘covert political financing’ are two-fold: to develop influence over benefiting-individuals and parties, and to increase the likelihood that those parties perform well in elections. The hidden relationships between these parties and their Russian benefactors undermine the integrity of, and public faith in, democratic institutions,” the cable says.

Russia’s covert funding is an “assault on sovereignty,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “It is an effort to chip away at the ability of people around the world to choose the governments that they see best fit to represent them, to represent their interests, and to represent their values.”

Officials say one aim of the U.S. campaign to reveal details about Russian political interference and influence is to strengthen democratic resilience around the world, The Times adds.

“By shining this light on Russian covert political financing and attempts to undermine democratic processes, we’re putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they accept Russian money secretly we can and we will expose it,” an official said.

When it comes to countering the covert influence of autocracies like Russia and China, the West “cannot fight fire with fire,” argues Nigel Inkster, the senior adviser for cybersecurity and China at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Mobilizing government, society and economic and academic systems around competition with foreign foes the way China does would betray Western values. But leaders of democracies need to internalize the sea change that has taken place in China and ensure that engagement with Beijing is tempered by a hardheaded sense of reality,” he writes for The Times.

While Russia’s disinformation presents a threat, it does not stand unopposed, said a special report from the Global Engagement Center (GEC) (above). The U.S. government, our allies and partner governments, international institutions, civil society, academia, the private sector, and citizens around the world will not stand by idly while Russia misuses the modern forms of communications that we all depend on for the free flow of ideas and information, according to Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.


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