Russia has secretly spent more than $300 million since 2014 to try to influence politicians and other officials in more than two dozen countries, the State Department claims in a recently released cable.
A cable released Tuesday provides a new intelligence assessment of Russia’s global covert efforts to support politics and parties sympathetic to Moscow. The cable does not name specific Russian targets, but says that the US is providing classified information to individual countries.
This is the latest attempt by the Biden administration to declassify intelligence about Moscow’s military and political goals, which goes back to absolutely correct assessments that Russia will start a new war against Ukraine. Many of the senior national security officials under President Joe Biden have extensive experience in antagonizing Moscow and served in government whenlaunched large-scale campaigns to influence the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections.
A senior administration official declined to say how much money Russia is believed to have spent on, where President Volodymyr Zelensky and his deputies have long accused Putin of meddling in domestic politics. The official noted accusations of Russian influence in the recent elections in Albania, Bosnia and Montenegro, all countries in Eastern Europe that have faced historic pressure from Moscow.
In contrast to foreign governments’ alleged efforts to lobby for preferred initiatives, Russia’s covert influence has been to use front organizations to siphon money for favored targets or politicians, the cable claims. This includes think tanks in Europe and state-owned enterprises in Central America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.
The US has also secretly funded political groups in its history and been responsible for attempts to overthrow or undermine foreign governments. The official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in accordance with administration rules, dismissed comparisons between Russia’s activities and current US funding of media and political initiatives.
According to the official, Putin spent huge sums “in an attempt to manipulate democracies from within.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price called Russia’s covert funding “an attack on sovereignty.”
“This is an attempt to limit the ability of people around the world to choose the governments they think are best for representing them, representing their interests and representing their values,” he said.
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The State Department took the unusual step of releasing a diplomatic cable that was sent Monday to many U.S. embassies and consulates abroad, many in Europe, Africa and South Asia, outlining the concerns.
The cable, which was labeled “sensitive” and not intended for a foreign audience but was not classified, contained a number of discussion topics that US diplomats were instructed to discuss with host governments regarding alleged Russian interference. Among the steps that diplomats were advised to recommend were sanctions, a travel ban and exposure of covert funding.
According to the cable, intelligence officials believe Russia planned to transfer “at least another hundreds of millions” of dollars in funding to sympathetic parties and officials around the world.
The cable does not say how the intelligence officials arrived at the total figure of $300 million. It also does not remove fears that Russia or other adversaries may again try to interfere in US politics.
The journalists of the official briefing noted that Biden recently issued a declaration of a state of emergency in the country in connection with the continuing threat of foreign interference in the elections.
“We are advancing coordination with our Democratic counterparts,” the official said. “And we will share lessons learned to strengthen our collective election security, as well as our election security here at home.”