Russia is waging a campaign to “undermine democratic processes globally,” according to U.S. intelligence and State Department officials who have urged allies to expel Russian spies involved in the effort.
“Russia is focused on carrying out operations to degrade public confidence in election integrity,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team wrote in a cable to scores of U.S. embassies around the world. “This is a global phenomenon. Our information indicates that senior Russian government officials, including in the Kremlin, see value in this type of influence operation and perceive it to be effective.”
That campaign involves “both overt and covert mechanisms” that have targeted “at least 11 elections across nine democracies, including the United States,” according to the diplomatic cable. U.S. officials distinguished between this attempt to sow distrust and more specific operations to intervene on behalf of one candidate or another, such as the hack-and-leak operation that cast the 2016 U.S. presidential election into an uproar.
“It is critical not to overestimate these Russian efforts, which are continuously evolving and still maturing,” Blinken’s team wrote. “The U.S. intelligence community found that, at present, Russian operations to undermine public confidence in elections almost always rely upon — and then amplify — preexisting narratives generated by members of the targeted country’s domestic population.”
The integrity of democratic elections has emerged as a hot-button political topic in recent years.
“For these operations, Russia utilizes both overt and covert mechanisms, including influence networks and proxies managed by Russian Intelligence Services,” noted the State Department cable obtained by the Washington Examiner. “Overtly, before multiple elections in Asian, European, Middle Eastern, and South American countries in 2020 and 2021, Russian state media claimed the elections were undemocratic and amplified false claims of voting fraud, alleged U.S. election interference, spread messaging highlighting alleged election violations, or amplified conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots.”
Still, U.S. officials have begun to brief U.S.-allied democracies and other governments on the details of their findings and recommended a series of “mitigation steps,” including a recommendation that governments “expel and refuse to accredit Russian intelligence officers involved with operations to degrade public confidence in democratic elections.”
U.S. officials stopped short of revealing if they would provide those governments with a list of the Russian officials they believe to be engaged in the operation.
“We’ve provided as much of bespoke lead information to them, as permitted pursuant to intelligence-sharing guidelines,” a senior State Department official told reporters, emphasizing that they provided the governments with “policy options that they could exercise under their own authorities.”