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PUTIN ATTACKS DEMOCRACY WORLDWIDE


Vladimir Putin is not just attacking elections here in the US. He is trying to undermine democratic governments throughout the world.



Russia is unique in how it has used a mix of cyberpower and propaganda to attack electoral institutions and undermine faith in the democratic process. Other nations may use cyber methods to directly sabotage or spy on military installations; Russia stands alone in trying instead to disrupt democracy and public trust.



Over that time, Kremlin operatives have used cyber tools to target a wide variety of democratic elections, referendums and public policy discussions, including not just the United States but also elections in Ukraine and France and key referendums such as Brexit. Russia combines such cyber operations with propaganda to amplify social fault lines, polarize public opinion and undermine the integrity of Western democratic institutions. Left unchecked, Russia’s 21st century political warfare campaigns could continue to undermine democracy.



Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum have been detailed in a report prepared by the US Senate.

The report by Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee, titled Putin’s asymmetric assault on democracy in Russia and Europe: implications for US national security, chronicles Russian disinformation efforts in 19 countries. Regarding BREXIT, the report pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”.



This opacity, the report suggests, “may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors”.

“Investigative journalists have also raised questions about the sources of sudden and possibly illicit wealth that may have been directed to support the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign.” The UK Electoral Commission has already launched an investigation into the issue.

The senators point out that Ukip and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, did not just fan anti-EU sentiment but also “criticised European sanctions on Russia, and provided flattering assessments of Russian President Putin”.

The report adds that although officially the Russian government asserted its neutrality on Brexit, its English-language media outlets RT and Sputnik covered the referendum campaign extensively and offered ‘’systematically one-sided coverage’’.

The senators also challenge the adequacy of the investigations by Facebook and Twitter into the allegations of widespread social media interference by the Russians during the referendum. They reference University of Edinburgh research showing more than 400 Russian-run Twitter accounts that had been active in the US election had also been actively posting about Brexit.

In addition, the senators noted that research conducted by a joint team of experts from the University of California at Berkeley and Swansea University reportedly identified 150,000 Twitter accounts with various Russian ties that disseminated messages about Brexit.

The report also points to the vast flow of Russian money into the UK, including the London property market. It records how the Metropolitan police noted that a total value of £180m in properties in the UK had been put under investigation as possibly purchased with corrupt proceeds by secretive offshore companies.



Following the same battle plan, Putin also hacked the recent French elections where Emannuel Macron was elected.

Two days before France's recent presidential election, hackers leaked nine gigabytes of emails from candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign onto the web. Since then, the Kremlin has once again emerged as the likeliest culprit. But while public evidence can't definitively prove Russia's involvement, NSA director Michael Rogers suggested to Congress today that America's most powerful cybersecurity agency has pinned at least some electoral interference on Moscow.

In a hearing of the Senate's Armed Forces Committee, Rogers indicated that the NSA had warned French cybersecurity officials ahead of the country's presidential runoff that Russian hackers had compromised some elements of the election. Macron's En Marche political party issued a statementsaying that it had "been the victim of a massive, coordinated act of hacking."

Security firm Trend Micro noted that the same Russian group that hacked the US Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign had also created a phishing domain intended to spoof a Microsoft storage website used by Macron. And the trove of Macron's party emails published as torrent files Friday included metadata in Cyrillic, suggesting that they had been edited on a computer running software with Russian-language configurations. That metadata even included the name Roshka Georgiy Petrovich, reportedly an employee of the Russian intelligence contractor Eureka.

Trend Micro and the German government have both said, for instance, that Russian hackers have attempted to target the party of German chancellor Angela Merkel, and successfully stolen data from the German parliament.



Just recently Russia has attempted to undermine peace between Greece and its neighbor the Northern Republic of Macedonia. Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias has accused Russia of attempting to sabotage a historic diplomatic agreement with Macedonia in order to stop the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into Eastern Europe.

The statement was made shortly after Athens announced that it will expel several Russian diplomats for their alleged interference in the country’s foreign policy. Greece accused the Russian officials of attempting to stir up opposition to a historic agreement reached with its tiny neighbor the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

For decades, Macedonia was unable to join NATO or the European Union because of a longstanding dispute with Greece over what the country’s name should be. In mid-June, the two countries agreed that Macedonia’s official name will be the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

Russia has long been opposed to NATO's expansion, particularly in parts of Eastern Europe that it considers part of its sphere of influence. Moscow, for example, was reportedly unhappy when Macedonia’s neighbors Albania and Montenegro joined NATO in 2009 and 2017, respectively. The Kremlin allegedly attempted to stage a coup in Montenegro in 2016 to prevent the country from joining the Western military alliance.

Greece's explusion of Russians and turn against Russia is very significant since Greece was previously an open ally of Russia - even refusing to sanction them when the rest of the world sanctioned Russia for the murder of people in London.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza government has previously been accused of being too close to Moscow, but experts say the name agreement is more important to Athens than its relationship with Russia.

“Greece has been a friend of Russia’s but the name deal with Macedonia is [a] top priority for [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras,” Balkans analyst Dimitar Bechev told Newsweek. “Moscow’s actions come at a cost. Russia has no great stake in the issue, it just wants to undercut NATO and EU enlargement.”



Russia is also now attempting to block Sweden and Finland from joining NATO. Russia’s defense minister has said NATO’s increasing ties with Sweden and Finland are “worrying” and such actions force his nation to “take response measures.”

Russia’s cyberattacks to destabalize democracies often involve key propaganda narratives. In other words, the Kremlin uses cyberattacks as part of a larger strategy of reflexive control, operations designed to shape other states’ perspectives and perceptions about the designs of Russia.

That’s because the Kremlin elite are updating old approaches to propaganda and political sabotage to be carried out by new technology. In fact, according to scholar Keir Giles, Russian leaders think that these influence operations, conducted via social media and cyber invasions, may be able to replace military interventions, enabling Russia to throw rival nations off balance, at a much lower cost.

Russia stands out from other nations in uniquely using cyber methods to distort, gaslight and alter the views of the target population. Other authoritarian states use cyber methods to rig their own elections. But Russia remains rare among great powers in its targets and methods.

Hacking the Democratic National Committee deviates significantly from other nations’ hacking attempts. Instead of destabilizing weapons systems, the Russian hack tried to extract private information and reinsert it into public discussion to destabilize the democratic process.