Russia Spent Millions on Secret Global Political Campaign, US Says

Russia has secretly funneled at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in an attempt to shape political events beyond its borders, according to a new US intelligence review. .

Moscow planned to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more as part of its covert campaign to weaken democratic systems and promote global political forces seen as aligned with Kremlin interests, according to the review, which the Biden administration commissioned this summer.

A senior US official, who like other officials spoke to reporters Tuesday on condition of anonymity to discuss the intelligence findings, said the administration decided to declassify some of the review’s findings in an attempt to counter Russia’s ability to to influence political systems in European countries. Africa and elsewhere.

“By shedding this light on Russia’s covert political financing and Russian attempts to undermine democratic processes, we are putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they secretly accept Russian money, we can and will expose you,” the official said.

Countries where such activities were identified included Albania, Montenegro, Madagascar and, potentially, Ecuador, according to an administration source familiar with the matter.

The officials pointed to one Asian country, which they declined to name, where they said the Russian ambassador gave millions of dollars in cash to a presidential candidate. They said Kremlin-linked forces have also used shell companies, think tanks and other means to influence political events, sometimes to the benefit of far-right groups.

The senior official said the US government detected an increase in Russia’s covert political financing in 2014. The review did not address Russian activities inside the United States.

US assessments spy agencies and a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, launched a campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to help then-candidate Donald Trump.

The release of details about the Kremlin’s alleged political influence campaign comes as the United States expands its military support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, now in its seventh month.

Since early this year, the White House has taken the unusual step of repeatedly releasing declassified intelligence related to Moscow’s intentions and actions related to Ukraine, as part of an attempt to roll back Putin’s ambitions there and counter what officials Americans have described as Russian disinformation operations.

A State Department focus on Monday to US embassies in more than 100 countries described alleged Russian activities and suggested steps the US and its allies can take to roll back, including sanctions, travel bans or the expulsion of suspected Russian spies involved in political financing activities.

The cable, which officials provided to journalists, said that Russian political financing was sometimes overseen by Russian government officials and legislators, and had been executed by agencies including Russia’s Federal Security Service.

Focus he also named Russian oligarchs he said were involved in “financing schemes,” including Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” after earning large sums from Russian government catering contracts, was accused by US officials in 2018 of attempting to interfere in the 2016 US election. He has been linked to the private military firm Wagner and is wanted by the FBI.

Moscow has used cryptocurrencies, cash and gifts to shape political events in other countries, often employing Russian embassy accounts and resources to do so, the cable says.

“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 effectiveness of sanctions. and maintain its influence on international markets. regions in the midst of their ongoing war in Ukraine,” she said.

US diplomats are briefing their counterparts in other countries on the activities, which US officials believe could go far beyond the nations and sums that have been identified.

“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the senior official said. “So instead of sitting on the sidelines, we are sharing these response measures.”

US officials are also asking partner countries to share their own information on Russian funding to help the US government get a more complete picture of what Russia is doing.

While the review did not address Russian influence efforts in the United States, the senior official acknowledged that the issue remains a significant challenge that requires continued work to safeguard the US political system and elections.

“There is no doubt that we also have this vulnerability,” the official said.

Paul Sonne in Washington contributed to this report.

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