Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment has an interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that makes the point that Russian interference in the elections of other countries is nothing new. For example the KGB used similar tactics in the 1980’s in an effort to defeat deployment of U.S. intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe:
The Soviets did everything they could to encourage and manipulate the grass-roots European peace movement that had risen up in opposition to the new weapons.
According to declassified CIA reports, Moscow used a web of front groups, secret payments to activists and articles placed in the press. The Russians also carefully conveyed propaganda themes to sympathetic media outlets, peddled disinformation and produced damaging forgeries of official U.S. and NATO documents.
. . .
The KGB and its allied intelligence services also tried to tilt elections in the U.S., Western Europe and the Third World. At the height of the debate over the U.S. missile deployment in Europe, the Soviets organized what Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government called a “massive propaganda campaign of interference in West German affairs” to force his ouster in the country’s March 1983 election. But the Soviet effort backfired. The crude Soviet “press commentaries” and staged “workers’ rallies” horrified Kohl’s party and even the opposition Social Democrats.
As Weiss notes, Russia is now likely to use similar tactics in several upcoming European elections:
With elections also coming up this year in Germany, the Netherlands and perhaps Italy, the Kremlin’s willingness to use its KGB-style tool kit has put intelligence services across the continent on alert. In Germany, for instance, a high-profile January 2016 fake-news story about an attempted sexual assault on a Russian-German teenager by Middle Eastern refugees, which was also spread by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, stoked popular anger toward Chancellor Angela Merkel—probably Mr. Putin’s most prominent foreign foe.
There is one remarkable difference, however, between Russia’s electoral interference in the past and what we are seeing today. In the past, the efforts were largely designed to bolster the left in elections. Today, the efforts instead are designed to bolster the far right. This is a fascinating change, which reflects a return to Russia’s traditional, pre-Revolution strategy in the World, but that is a post for another day.
Read the full post here.