The Kremlin turns to Western Europe
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.