Russian Hacking Causing Fears Throughout European Upcoming Elections
A declassified report, released by the United States intelligence community in January disclosed that Russian-backed hackers meddled with the US elections and stated that this tactic to hack and influence elections and politics is not a new tactic. Subsequently, this report has put Europe on high alert as many important countries including the Netherlands, France, and Germany all have upcoming elections.
The strategy to delegitimize governments through disinformation, to increase its sphere of influence is not new to Russia. In fact, this approach has transcended the Cold War to today; additionally, one could make the argument that social media and the internet have allowed the Russians to become much more aggressive on this front. The name of the game is disinformation, and Russia is one of the best at this game.
In the Netherlands, the fear of Russian hacking in their upcoming elections have spread so far that the Dutch, an incredibly tech-savvy country, have decided to scale back the use of computers to count votes and will rely instead on a manual count system. Leading this decision was Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk who stated: “I don’t want a shadow of doubt over the result in a political climate like the one we know today.” Despite these precautions, the argument could be made that this is exactly what Russia wants: disinformation throughout a targeted country which in turn leads to those questioning the political stability and legitimacy of said country.
In France, it was found that Marie La Pen, the leader of a far-right national party, had taken a €11 million loan from a Russian bank to support her campaign. Like President Trump, who, along with many of his staff members has business ties in Russia, she is at the risk of being blackmailed by Russia to promote friendlier policies towards Russia. Another French politician, Emmanuel Macron, is a target of Russia’s “fake news.” His campaign has received thousands of cyber attacks, and inaccurate stories of him and his past have been spread throughout Russian-backed news outlets. The personal attacks became so bad that Macron was forced to make public statements to reassure his supporters that American banks were not funding him and that he was not having an affair. These attacks, while untrue and frankly petty, have proved to be incredibly harmful to many candidates throughout the World.
In Germany, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, released a two-page report, which stated that the goal of Russia is to create uncertainty in the political system in Germany and to sow seeds of doubt throughout society. Additionally, many intelligence experts agree that of the three countries briefly discussed here, Germany is the prime target, specifically Angela Merkel. Germany’s position in the world, the dominant role they play in the European Union, is a prime target for Russia as delegitimizing Germany could potentially prove to be a devastating blow to the European Union.
Cyber attacks like these are hard to defend, hard to counter, thus making them a top priority for Russian officials in their goal of spreading their sphere of influence throughout regions of the world.