The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign is looking outside U.S. borders as well — and shedding light on a number of targets in Eastern Europe that shows why and how Kremlin-affiliated agents went after specific Americans. A recent open hearing by the panel revealed influence campaigns aimed at countries across Europe and the Balkans, meant to disrupt pro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization candidates and parties. Those hearings are taking on new resonance amid an admission by Donald Trump Jr., son of President Donald Trump, that of a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney, whom the younger Trump believed to be in possession of incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Russian influence tactics used in the U.S. presidential election and in recent European contests have been used overtly by President Vladimir Putin to exert influence over pro-NATO neighbors in Eastern Europe, experts say.
They contend recent Russian aggression aimed at former Soviet Bloc countries — including the ongoing occupation of eastern Ukraine and Crimea and election-meddling and aggressive regime change efforts in Montenegro in 2016 — show a familiar pattern of cyberattacks, hacking and fake news efforts coupled with more aggressive on-the-ground operations.
Janis Sarts, director of the NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence, said that this type of hybrid aggression “lets you achieve your goal without getting into full military conflict,” and is largely aimed at combatting Western value systems.
“Russian propaganda aims at redefining what a value for a society is,” Sarts said in an emailed statement. “Countries from the post-Soviet Bloc which the Kremlin sees as an important part of their interests, and which also seek to be embedded deeper into the Euro-Atlantic value system and institutions, are the ones being targeted more.”