WASHINGTON, February 6, 2018: Russia has been busy interfering with elections in Western countries for some time. Its goal is clear: to weaken NATO, the European Union, the U.S. relationship with its allies and to create chaos wherever it can.
Moscow played an important role in the recent election in the Czech Republic.
Zeman calls for the lifting of all sanctions against Moscow and after his victory in January, he reiterated his proposal that Czechs vote in a referendum on whether to remain in NATO and the EU.
Mr. Zeman’s narrow victory was helped by the significant spending of unknown origin and by an online disinformation campaign directed against his opponent, Jiri Drahos, a respected scientist who campaigned on a platform reaffirming ties to the West.
He says it is “logical” to suppose that the assault upon him may be due to “the Russian secret service and other organizations.”
According to the Prague-based European Values Think-Tank, in the closing days of the campaign, Mr. Drahos, former head of the Czech Academy of Sciences, was accused of being an agent of the former communist secret police, a pedophile, a member of a secret globalist society and an advocate of mass Muslim immigration. None of these things were true.
Many European countries are responding to Moscow’s interference in their democratic elections. The Baltic states and the Nordic countries have instituted national programs to monitor disinformation. The French media was ready for Moscow’s interference on behalf of far-right and anti-NATO and EU candidate Marine Le Pen, and sought to resist it.
Germany pre-emptied Russian interference in its elections by warning the Kremlin that meddling would bring consequences.
Spain has cracked down on Russian organized crime groups.
Russia used cyberwarfare, disinformation and military force to inhibit ties to the West by Georgia and Ukraine. It is trying to undermine Serbia’s efforts to integrate with the West by exploiting connections between the Russian Orthodox Church and Serbians and through its near monopoly on energy supplies.
Russia has weakened democracy in Hungary and Bulgaria, both members of NATO and the EU, and has drawn them closer to Moscow.
Russia’s meddling into the internal affairs of other countries is known worldwide. Including their attempt at a coup in Montenegro. This action involving storming the nation’s parliament and capturing or killing the prime minister ahead of that nation’s attempt to join NATO. Russia used Internet trolls and bots to influence the “Brexit” election in Britain and the Catalonia independence movement in Spain. The list is a long one.
Shame on Russia the first time, shame on America the second
We know that Russia interfered in our 2016 election. So says the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency. The Mueller probe and related investigations by congressional committees are exploring what President Trump’s relationship with such Russian activity may have been. He may turn out to be innocent of any wrongdoing. But this has nothing to do with the reality of Russian interference—and the likelihood that it will happen again in the 2018 elections.
For whatever reason, perhaps because he thinks Russian interference taints the legitimacy of his election, President Trump does not appear to be preparing the 2018 elections and the need to safeguard their integrity. Thus far, the president has not had a cabinet-level meeting on the Russian intervention or on how to prevent its recurrence.
Ensuring that future elections are cleanly kept requires comprehensive action across the government.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden, who served under President George W. Bush, compares this to the response demanded by the September 11, 2001, attacks. He says that state election systems, many of which were probed by Russian cyberattackers, must be hardened and social media platforms must be pushed to erect protections against propaganda put forward by armies of bots.
Most important is making Mr. Putin understand that the costs of interfering in our elections will be greater than any gains.
In October, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testimony was that not enough was being done to stop Russian interference, but “we are not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there.” Intelligence from inside the Kremlin indicates that Putin believes that he has pulled off one of the greatest covert operations in history, one that was “more than worth the effort.”
CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he expects Russia to meddle in the midterm 2018 elections.
Yet, the Trump administration has thus far failed to fulfill a bipartisan congressional mandate to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 elections.
Both houses of Congress almost unanimously approved legislation last year requiring more sanctions against Russia. While the law has been in effect for more than six months, there has been not one new sanction even as Russia continues to interfere in democratic institutions here and abroad.
Many Republicans express dismay with the administration’s hesitant response to Russian interference. Sen John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin whether he agreed that Putin “had acted like a thug,” Mnuchin demurred.
Sen. Kennedy persisted,
“Let’s go through the list. Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, he meddled in our election, he’s helping North Korea cheat. I mean it seems to me in terms of sanctions, we only hit him so hard he’s coughing up bones. I mean he’s not getting better. He’s getting worse.”
With the 2018 elections approaching, Washington has thus far done little to protect the integrity of our electoral process. Moscow’s designs are clear.
How is President Trump’s “America First” agenda served by making us vulnerable to our enemies?