Kremlin has many opportunities to make mischief in Europe this year.
National elections will take place in the Netherlands, Germany and
France (and possibly Italy). In each of those countries, widespread
skepticism about the benefits of European Union membership, anxiety
about immigration, worry about terror and doubts about future
prosperity have given rise to populist movements that challenge
ruling elites. These movements are sympathetic to Russian President
Vladimir Putin’s claim that Western liberal democracy is failing.
They favor an end to Western sanctions against Russia for its
aggression in Ukraine. Dutch populist Geert Wilders and France’s
Marine Le Pen lead the polls, and could soon lead the governments in
their countries. The Kremlin has supported both candidacies with
favorable media coverage and, in Le Pen’s case, with ample
financial support. In Germany, pro-Russian media has targeted
Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom the Kremlin sees as its main European
would like to see either Le Pen or Former Prime Minister Francois
Fillon—the Republican candidate—elected president of France.
Fillon has called for sanctions to be lifted, and his Republicans
have connections to Russian business. But Le Pen has had trouble
broadening her base beyond 25 percent of the electorate. Fillon, whom
many experts had predicted would be the eventual winner after the
second round of voting in May, has seen his popularity drop in the
wake of a financial scandal involving his British wife. Wikileaks
founder Julian Assange said
in an interview with Izvestia
that he had discovered ties between candidate Emmanuel Macron and
the Kremlin’s preferred candidates stalled, in the past several
days Moscow’s information war arsenal has targeted newcomer Macron,
a charismatic former investment banker who has been surging in the
polls. Media attacks by the Kremlin-funded Sputnik
Macron for allegedly leading a gay lobby in French politics, backing
globalization and acting as a lobbyist for U.S. banking interests.
They have made much of the fact that Macron is married to his French
teacher from high school who is 24 years his senior.
authorities are understandably eager to preserve the campaign’s
integrity. France’s defense minister recently warned
that the presidential elections are at risk of manipulation by
“foreign” cyber hackers. On 6 February, Google, Facebook and
other Internet giants launched a new effort to combat fake news and
poorly sourced content. They will be working with established French
news organization to call attention to fake stories.
the Russian information offensive focused on the West, pro-Russian
media targeting the Baltic states have emphasized established themes,
NATO and the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
These issues are likely to regain prominence in mid-February at the
Munich Security Conference and at the meeting of NATO defense
ministers in Brussels.