Attempting to influence political events beyond its borders, Russia has surreptitiously provided at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in over two dozen countries since 2014, according to a new U.S. intelligence study.
The investigation was commissioned by the Biden administration this summer after it became clear that Moscow intended to increase its covert spending of hundreds of millions of dollars to undermine democratic systems and support global political movements perceived as compatible with Kremlin goals.
To counter Russia’s ability to sway political systems in countries across Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, the administration decided to declassify some of the review’s findings, according to a senior U.S. official, who, like other officials, spoke to reporters on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings.
The official warned foreign parties and candidates that they risk being exposed if they secretly accept Russian money. “By shining this light on Russian covert political financing and Russian attempts to undermine democratic processes, we are putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they accept Russian money in secret we can and will expose it,” the official said.
An administration insider said that Albania, Montenegro, Madagascar, and maybe even Ecuador were all places where such actions were detected.
They said the Russian ambassador allegedly bribed a presidential contender in Asia with millions of dollars in cash, but they wouldn’t say which country. They said that forces with ties to the Kremlin have used front organizations like shell firms and think tanks to influence politics, sometimes to the benefit of extremists.
The senior person claimed that in 2014, the United States government found evidence of an increase in Russian covert political financing. Russian interference in American affairs was not examined in this report.
U.S. intelligence agencies and a bipartisan Senate investigation have both concluded that Russia, led by President Vladimir Putin, actively sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election in order to help then-candidate Donald Trump.
In the midst of the seventh month of Ukraine’s battle with Russia, the United States has increased its military backing for the country, and the revelation of facts regarding the Kremlin’s purported political influence campaign coincides with this development.
To counter what U.S. officials have described as Russian disinformation operations and to push back on Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine, the White House has taken the unusual step of repeatedly releasing declassified intelligence related to Moscow’s intentions and actions related to the country since the beginning of the year.
On Monday, the State Department sent a “démarche” to U.S. embassies in over 100 countries, outlining the alleged Russian activities and suggesting steps the United States and its allies can take to push back, such as sanctions, travel bans, or the expulsion of suspected Russian spies involved in political financing activities.
A cable released to reporters by government authorities revealed that Russian political fundraising had been carried out by groups including Russia’s Federal Security Service, with oversight from Russian government officials and politicians.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov were two of the Russian oligarchs listed in the démarche as being complicit in “funding schemes.”
US officials charged Prigozhin, sometimes known as “Putin’s chef” for his massive earnings from Russian government catering contracts, with meddling in the 2016 US elections in 2018. The FBI is looking for him because of his ties to the Wagner private military group.
Russian legislator Babakov has been accused of funding a French far-right party.
According to the cable, Moscow has utilized cryptocurrencies, cash, and gifts to influence political events in other countries, often making use of the accounts and resources of Russian embassies.
As the conflict in Ukraine continues, Russia may try to maintain its influence in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia by using its “covert influence toolkit,” which includes covert political financing.
U.S. diplomats are advising foreign colleagues on the operations, which American officials suspect may extend far beyond the specified countries and monetary amounts.
We believe this is only the beginning,” the high-ranking official added. Because of this, rather than remain on the sidelines, we are disseminating these countermeasures.
In order to get a better understanding of Russia’s activities, the United States is urging its allies to exchange data on Russian financial support.
The senior official said that protecting the U.S. political system and elections from Russian influence activities remained a serious challenge, even though it was not covered in the study.
The official admitted, “There is no doubt that we have this susceptibility as well.”