BERLIN — In a highly-anticipated report due to be released on Wednesday, congressional Democrats are expected to raise renewed concerns over mounting evidence of Russian interference in at least 19 European nations, according to the Associated Press which obtained an advance copy.
The 200-plus pages report, commissioned by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, directly targets President Donald Trump for failing to respond to the threat, even as other nations in Europe have taken much stronger measures to counter Russian efforts in the region.
"Never before has a U.S. president so clearly ignored such a grave and growing threat to U.S. national security," the report warns, according to AP.
Even though American intelligence agencies agree that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections and have stood by their assessment, Trump has sent out mixed messages. After appearing to back the agencies, Trump later backtracked last November and publicly recalled Russian President Vladimir Putin as telling him that "he didn't meddle."
"I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it," Trump said at the time, referring to Putin's earlier remarks.
European leaders have long greeted Putin's assurances with a bit more skepticism, given a long record of what they perceived to have been deliberate deceptions by the Russian leader. Here's what we know about Russia's influence on the continent:
How is Russia believed to have meddled in Europe?
In some countries, Russia's footprint has been more obvious than in others. Whereas some politicians have refrained from openly speaking out, others — such as France's Emmanuel Macron or Britain's Theresa May — have openly accused Russia of interfering.
"So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed," May said last November. "The U.K. will do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise."
The U.S. congressional report, which relies on staff interviews with officials and diplomats as well as open source evidence according to AP, appears to confirm the use of those techniques and specifically refers to elections in Britain, France and Germany last year.
The campaign of Macron, which won the presidential race, later accused the Kremlin of election meddling, saying that servers belonging to the team had been hacked by a group likely associated with Russia. The Macron team argued that Russian hackers may have been searching for dirt on their candidate to help Le Pen's campaign.
However, Russia's meddling strategies continue to be unpredictable to a certain extent. Even though suspected Russians also hacked the German Parliament in 2015 and stole 16 gigabytes of emails, the material - unlike emails attributed to the Macron campaign in France or the Hillary Clinton team in the United States - were never published.
Which European parties are backed by Russia?
There are also number of parties in Europe which have made pro-Russian stances their distinguishing feature.
In Germany and France, the incumbent leaders both faced resistance from Russian-backed parties last year, according to a recent new report released by the Atlantic Council think tank.
Germany's Alternative for Germany party made closer ties to Russia one of its top priorities and "campaigned aggressively in districts with a high concentration of Russian speakers while Russian state media provided favorable coverage," according to the Atlantic Council.
Russian support for Le Pen's National Front in France was even more extensive. The far right politician has taken loans from Russian banks and has repeatedly praised Putin. In return, Russian state media openly supported her in the French election, and she "was propped up by Russian sponsored social media accounts," as the Atlantic Council authors write.
The think tank's authors believe that Russia's influence may be strongest in Italy, where the populist Five Star Movement has been topping the polls. The movement's policy stances in favor of closer ties to Russia are well documented in speeches. Meanwhile, other more serious accusations that it is cooperating with Russia to win next year's election remain in question.
In Greece, one of the parties accused of being most influenced by Russia is already in power. The left-wing Syriza party has denied that it reversed its foreign policy stance to become more pro-Russia because of hopes that it may receive Russian bailouts. But Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin have bought stakes in Greek media. Russia's state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, also purchased large stakes in Greek energy firms. And most notably, Putin has maintained a close relationship with the Greek leadership.
Russia is believed to have been supportive of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) as well as the left-wing and increasingly pro-Russian Podemos party in Spain. The country is also investigating whether Russia influenced the recent independence vote in Catalonia.
How has Europe responded?
European responses to the alleged election meddling have varied. The congressional report is expected to credit nations such as Estonia or Finland for their effective handling of the threat, according to AP, saying that Finland already ramped up its cyber defenses ahead of elections in 2015. Summits and inter-agency networks which the congressional report suggests should be implemented in the United States are already in place in some European nations.
However, some of the problems laid out are difficult to combat from Europe and would likely necessitate a broader cross-country effort. Social networks often still don't reveal when ads are paid for by political parties or stakeholders. And investigators in Europe and the United States have also shown skepticism whether numbers of fake accounts believed to be operated by Russia to stir tensions in the West (and released by social networks themselves) are accurate.
Have Europe's efforts been successful?
Even as Europe has bolstered its cyber defenses, efforts to combat fake news or meddling efforts publicly have proven to be difficult. A new law in Germany which is supposed to force social networks to remove hate-stirring messages within 24 hours is being criticized for coming close to censorship. Similar concerns have been raised in France where Macron has also vowed to pass an anti-fake news law.
Anticipating similar criticism, the Czech Republic's year-old anti-fake news task force has decided against taking down websites. Instead, the Prague-based center relies on mass media to pick up its statements issued to debunk misleading online reports.
The problem with that idea, however, is that many of the estimated 25 percent of Czechs who read websites accused of spreading fake news have stopped consuming mainstream media where those corrections usually appear. The Czech Republic's experiences reveal the challenges other countries, such as France, Finland and Germany, are now facing as they try to establish agencies of their own or draft new laws.
Source : https://www.stripes.com/news/europe/everything-we-know-so-far-about-russian-election-meddling-in-europe-1.505984