The hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee emails, now widely attributed to Russian intelligence, has set off a political earthquake in the United States, notes Eugene Rumer, a former national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the U.S. National Intelligence Council, and a senior associate and the director of Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program.
Russian government and state-sponsored agents have intervened in other countries’ elections and domestic politics, he writes for Foreign Affairs:
They have done so in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy, just to name some U.S. allies. For Russia’s neighbors—Ukraine, the Baltic states, and Moldova—Moscow’s heavy hand in their domestic politics is a constant worry. Just because the United States is big and powerful doesn’t mean that its domestic politics is necessarily off limits to Russian intelligence. In fact, the United States’ position in the world as the only truly global power makes it even more of a target for Russian intelligence.
The Kremlin is also making forays into the field of democracy assistance, propping up dubious election-monitoring groups to observe elections, notes Jan Surotchak, the Regional Director, Europe at the International Republican Institute [a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy]. Unsurprisingly, these results of these missions almost always reinforce Russian interests in places including South Ossetia, Ukraine, Transdniestria, the Baltic States and Crimea, he writes for The Daily Telegraph:
If this trend continues without resistance, it could have an even more corrosive influence on democracies throughout the region. It’s one of the reasons my organization was inspired to form the Beacon Project, a new collaborative initiative aimed at countering this threat through documentation and coalition building.
With the UK’s great schism from the European Union now underway, it is imperative that all leaders in the transatlantic community resist the impulse to turn inward and cooperate to resist the Kremlin’s campaign of lies and manipulation. The integrity of our political systems may just depend on it.
U.S. support for democracy in and around Russia is a threat to the Kremlin, Rumer adds:
The release of the Panama Papers, which revealed information about the hidden wealth and presumed corrupt activities of the ruling elite, has been portrayed by the Kremlin as an effort in Washington to discredit it and destabilize Russia. By the same token, the Olympic doping scandal is also seen as a Western plot against Russia. U.S.-EU economic sanctions against Russia that were put in place in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are described as a cover for the real goal—to weaken and promote regime change in Russia……
More needs to be done—in cyber, intelligence, information operation, and other forms of hybrid warfare, as well as deterrence, along with resilience and defense measures against it to meet Russia’s challenge. More also is needed to be ready to conduct counter-offensive operations when the need arises. And all of this has to be done while also looking for ways to avoid accidental escalation and maintain some lines of communications with the Kremlin. Recognizing the nature of the threat that Russia presents is the first step toward dealing with it.