The Krem­lin turns to West­ern Europe

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in the Wash­ing­ton Post:

By now it should be clear that the new nor­mal of Rus­sian con­duct on the in­ter­na­tional stage in­cludes tam­per­ing with elec­tions in West­ern democ­ra­cies to boost can­di­dates the Krem­lin be­lieves likely to do its bid­ding and to ha­rass those who won’t. Hav­ing done ex­actly that in the 2016 U.S. elec­tions, Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are now di­rect­ing their sub­terfuge at Europe, in­clud­ing the con­ti­nent’s fore­most eco­nomic pow­ers: Ger­many and France.

The im­me­di­ate tar­gets of Rus­sian cy­ber-med­dling are Em­manuel Macron, the front-run­ner in the sec­ond and fi­nal round of France’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, set for May 7, and think tanks as­so­ci­ated with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, whose gov­ern­ing coali­tion faces elec­tions this fall. Like Hil­lary Clin­ton, whose cam­paign was sim­i­larly in the Krem­lin’s crosshairs, nei­ther Macron nor Merkel has been shy about con­demn­ing Moscow’s ag­gres­sion in Ukraine. They have backed eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia that have in­fu­ri­ated Putin.

The re­sult has been a re­lent­less se­ries of cy­ber­at­tacks orig­i­nat­ing in Moscow, in all prob­a­bil­ity di­rected by Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence. In ad­di­tion to Macron and Merkel, hack­ing tar­gets have in­cluded the For­eign and De­fence min­istries of Den­mark, a stal­wart of the Euro­pean Union and NATO.

Amid the flurry of re­ports about Rus­sian-di­rected fake news, phish­ing, phoney web­sites and other strat­a­gems de­ployed by Putin’s cy­ber­war­riors, it’s im­por­tant to stay fo­cused on the cen­tral out­rage — namely, that the Krem­lin, hav­ing suc­ceeded in cor­rupt­ing Amer­ica’s pol­i­tics last year, is now in­tent on hi­jack­ing elec­tions, democ­racy’s most ba­sic fea­ture, in other key West­ern na­tions.

Moscow’s tac­tics are de­signed to favour its pre­ferred can­di­date in the May 7 run-off: Marine Le Pen, a rightwing na­tion­al­ist who has taken loans from Rus­sian banks, op­posed sanc­tions against Moscow and heaped scorn on the EU. Her poli­cies would weaken Europe and drive a wedge among West­ern democ­ra­cies — pre­cisely the re­turn on in­vest­ment Putin is hop­ing for from his med­dling.

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