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By NICHOLAS RICCARDI Associated Press
The U.S. is warning nearly 100 countries that Russian intelligence is opening a new front in its efforts to destabilize democracies by amplifying doubts about the legitimacy of vote-counting and elections, senior government officials said Friday. Russia has long advocated overtly and covertly for candidates it backs to win elections in other countries, but intelligence officials say they have recently identified a new tactic — sowing doubts about the reliability of democracy itself. “Russia is pursuing operations to degrade public confidence in the integrity of elections themselves,” the U.S. stated in a cable sent this week to embassies in more than 90 countries to be passed onto those governments. The document was obtained by The Associated Press.
A message left with the Russian embassy in Washington was not immediately returned. Russia appears encouraged by its success in amplifying the lies by former President Donald Trump and his supporters during and after the 2020 presidential election falsely blaming widespread fraud for his loss. Those lies helped spark the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and continue to resonate to this day, contributing to the paralysis in the House of Representatives, where the Republican majority had been considering placing one of the lie’s loudest congressional proponents, Rep. Jim Jordan, in charge.
“It is our view that Russia is capitalizing on what it sees as a relatively inexpensive success in the United States in 2020 to take this global,” a senior intelligence official said on a call with reporters on Friday. Officials on the call spoke on condition that their names not be disclosed so they could discuss U.S. intelligence. The warning comes before next year’s presidential elections in the U.S., where Trump is the heavy favorite to win his party’s nomination, and elections in other democracies, including for the European Union parliament in June of 2024.
In its warning to other nations, the U.S. said a review of elections between 2020 and 2022 found 11 separate contests in nine countries where Russia “engaged in a concerted effort” to undermine confidence in election outcomes. It found examples in 17 additional democracies of a “less-pronounced” campaign to amplify domestic questions about the reliability of elections. During a European country’s 2020 election, the cable states, Russia’s intelligence agency “attempted through proxies to deploy agitators to intimidate campaign workers, organize protests on Election Day, and sabotage overseas voting.”
In one South American country’s election, the document states, “Russian Telegram channels included false coverage of alleged fraud, and Russian trolls across a range of social media websites sought to amplify concerns about post-election instability.”
Officials declined to further identify the targeted countries, saying the U.S. has warned them of the attempts and wants to respect their privacy. They recommended several steps to counter the influence operations, including fact-based messaging about election security, public disclosure of efforts to undermine democracy and possible sanctions or removal of bad actors. The U.S. has long targeted Russia as an agitator in U.S. elections, saying it was behind an influence campaign aimed at elevating Trump in the 2016 presidential election and accessing voter registration data in Illinois the same year.