The Kremlin will “very likely” try to intervene in European parliamentary elections this May to help pro-Russia and anti-EU politicians win seats, Estonia’s equivalent of MI6 has warned.
The Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service said President Putin’s goal is to undermine unity with the European Union “by sowing disorder and disbelief” within and between the 28 – soon to be 27 – member states.
The comments came in an annual security report that also said Russia’s secret security services are still carrying out hostile activity in cyber space despite the exposure of Russian military cyber operations in the wake of last year’s Salisbury spy poisoning.
Estonia also warned that Russia is continuing a build-up of conventional military forces along its western border.
“This shows that in the prioritised western direction, the Russian armed forces are preparing for a possible war along a wide front,” the report said.
Mikk Marran, director general of the Estonian spy agency, said countries in the European Union and NATO are not fully protected from Russia’s “aggressive activities”.
“Russia continues to develop and train its armed forces for a large-scale war against NATO,” he wrote in a foreword to the report.
“Even though the likelihood of a worst-case scenario is slim, surprises arranged by its authoritarian regime cannot be excluded.”
Mr Marran highlighted the threat posed to Western countries by Russian influence operations, designed to amplify divisions on issues such as EU sanctions against Moscow.
“To achieve that, Russia is prepared to get involved in other countries’ domestic policy,” the spy chief said.
“The issue of influence activities deserves particular attention this year, as EU member states are going to elect representatives to the European Parliament.”
Estonia, one of three Baltic states, is a member of the EU and of NATO and has close ties with the UK.
Hundreds of British troops are based in Estonia as part of a NATO operation to deter the threat of Russian aggression along the alliance’s eastern flank.
The nation shares a border with Russia and has deep expertise in its much larger neighbour’s activities.
EU member states are due to go to the polls between 23 and 26 May to elect new members of the European Parliament (MEPs) for a new five-year term.
The Estonian report said: “The Kremlin is very likely to try to intervene in the European Parliament elections to secure as many seats as possible for pro-Russian or euro-sceptical political forces.”
It continued: “The parliament as the only EU institution elected directly by the people is a considerable target for Russian influence operations.”
The spy service said the Kremlin would be likely to focus on larger member states Germany, France and Italy – which comprise about one third of all MEPs – for its intervention efforts.
These are countries “where some of the political parties have clearly expressed support to the current Kremlin policies towards the West”, the report said.
“Russia’s previous interference in Western elections has shown that it acts on the principle of ‘the end justifies the means’,” it said.
Russian support for candidates and parties comes in a variety of different forms, the spy agency report said.
They include positive coverage by Russian-controlled media; organising high-level meetings and visits that attract media attention; offering covert financial assistance; discrediting opponents by stealing and leaking internal information, as well as spreading false information on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Anti-EU and pro-Russian politicians and parties have not so far been able to create an effective umbrella organisation in the EU or European Parliament faction because of differing domestic interests, according to the report.
“But this may change if the election results are favourable,” it said.
“Considering the security threat posed by Russia for many European countries it would be an additional risk to have a group of MEPs who intentionally promote Kremlin’s policies.”
If Russian influence operations fall short of creating such a group, the spy agency warned that Moscow would approach and use right-wing, populist circles.
“It has previously done the same with the political associations that the Kremlin sees as its potential allies,” the report said, citing Russia using politicians from the Alternative for Germany party and Italy’s Lega, who have pushed for the EU to lift sanctions on Moscow.
The report did not mention the UK or Brexit in the section about Russia’s interest in European Union politics.
The EU parliamentary system is set up to enable the inclusion of small and marginal political parties, while typically low turnout makes it more likely that stronger-motivated political forces bring their supporters to the ballot boxes, the report said.
“Russia can use a smaller but concentrated effort to mobilise an electorate that meets its needs,” it said.
MEPs can be used as spokespeople for propaganda in Russia, according to the 70-page report, entitled International Security and Estonia 2019.
“Russia has attempted to influence the EU’s decision-making processes through elected members of parliament, used the parliament as a propaganda platform, and achieved direct contact with European politicians,” it said.
The report noted that some MEPs have spread the view that sanctions against Russia since the start of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea have had no impact on Russia, are harmful only to EU member states themselves, and only serve the interest of the US.
Source: Read Full Article