By Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday released a U.S. intelligence report sent to more than 100 countries showing that Moscow is using spies, social media and Russian state media to undermine public confidence in the integrity of democratic elections worldwide.
“This is a global phenomenon,” the assessment said. “Our information indicates that senior Russian government officials, including the Kremlin, see value in these types of influence operations and consider them effective.”
A senior State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said Russia was encouraged to intensify its election influence operations by its success in amplifying disinformation about the 2020 US election and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Success breeds more, and we certainly see the US election as a catalyst,” the official said.
The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The release of the report comes amid serious tensions between the United States and Russia over Moscow’s war against Ukraine and a host of other issues.
The assessment was sent in a State Department cable Wednesday to more than 100 U.S. embassies in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa for distribution to their host governments, he said.
Washington privately briefed host governments and shared the assessment “to get ahead of next year’s elections,” the official said.
The report represents Washington’s latest move to combat Moscow’s attempts to “sow instability” in democratic countries by portraying elections as “dysfunctional and the resulting governments as illegitimate.”
Washington “recognizes its own vulnerability to this threat,” the report said, noting that U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that “Russian actors are disseminating and amplifying information to undermine public confidence in the 2020 U.S. elections.”
US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, defeated his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2020, refusing to accept the results and falsely claiming he lost due to fraud.
Coordinated Russian operations between 2020 and 2022 aimed to “undermine public confidence in at least eleven elections in nine democracies, including the United States,” the report said, adding that seventeen others were targeted ” less pronounced’ efforts.
It did not identify any of the other countries.
Russia “uses both overt and covert mechanisms, including influence networks and proxies operated” by Russian spy services, the report said.
The report continued: Russia’s FSB security service secretly worked to intimidate election workers, organize Election Day protests, and “sabotage votes abroad” during the 2020 elections in an unnamed European country.
Russian state media openly claimed polls were undemocratic and “amplified false claims of fraud” ahead of multiple elections in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America between 2020 and 2021, the report said.
Russia also used social media platforms and “proxy websites” to cast doubt on the integrity of the election, the report said.
It called Russia “the main culprit” conducting operations to undermine public confidence in the conduct and results of elections.
Although China interfered in the election, it was not judged to have used the tactic, the official said. China denies election interference.
The report recommends that countries limit Russian interference in the elections through sanctions, information sharing, the expulsion of Russian spies and travel bans.
(Writing by Jonathan Landay, Editing by Nick Zieminski)