Russia covertly spent $300m to finance political parties abroad

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Russia has covertly spent more than $300m since 2014 to influence politicians in more than 24 countries, the US has alleged.

The Department of State’s allegation is based on a declassified US intelligence assessment.

The United States expects that Russia will increasingly turn to covert political financing in the coming months to undermine international sanctions over the war in Ukraine and maintain Moscow’s influence abroad, a senior Biden administration official said, citing the declassified U.S. intelligence assessment.

The official briefed reporters by phone on a review by the U.S. intelligence community of Russia’s efforts to influence other countries’ politics. It found Russia has transferred more than $300 million to foreign political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the efforts, including funding for think tanks to support far-right nationalist political parties, were “an attempt to manipulate democracies from the inside.”

The US intelligence assessment released in a cable did not name specific countries or officials believed to have been targeted by Russia – but said they spanned four continents.

The administration official said the US intelligence community was now privately briefing select countries on the alleged Russian covert financing. The briefings would remain confidential, the official added.

An administration source familiar with the findings alleged that Russia had spent about $500,000 to back Albania’s centre-right Democratic Party in 2017 elections and also bankrolled parties or candidates in Bosnia, Montenegro and Madagascar, according to the AFP news agency.

The source also said the Kremlin had used Brussels as a hub for foundations and other fronts that back far-right candidates.

Fictitious companies were said to be used to fund European parties and to buy influence elsewhere.

“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we are engaging with allies and partners to gather more information about this threat,” the official said.

The official did not detail which countries the Russian influence efforts targeted or provide specific evidence to lay out the claims of secret financing.

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Washington was declassifying some information from the review in part because of an expectation that Russia would “increasingly rely on its covert influence toolkit” in coming months, they said.

President Joe Biden’s administration has similarly declassified intelligence findings since Russia began building up its forces on Ukraine’s borders ahead of its Feb. 24 invasion.

Classified information was also being shared with countries to help them push back on Moscow’s influence, they said.

“We’re putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they accept Russian money secretly, we can and we will expose it,” the official said.

Via Reuters/ BBC/New York Times

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