European governments are bracing for cyber-meddling by Moscow in upcoming national elections in France, the Netherlands and Germany. Amid uproar in the United States over CIA findings that Russian hackers interceded in the election to help President-elect Donald Trump, a series of incidents in Europe have led to stark warnings by high-level officials, particularly in Germany, and by cybersecurity experts who say online political and information warfare is certain to worsen. In a remarkable two-page warning late last week, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of Germany’s Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, a domestic security agency, said there was a clear threat from Russian hackers seeking to sow “uncertainty in German society” and to destabilize the country. “In the political arena we see increasing and aggressive cyber-espionage,” Maaßen said. “We see a potential hazard to members of the German government, the Bundestag and employees of democratic parties through cyber-operations.” On Monday, German MEPs across the political spectrum echoed those worries.
During the American election, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed admiration for Trump, who returned the compliment. (Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is known for her combative relationship with Putin.)
The Kremlin also has clear preferences when it comes to elections in Europe — and a far more direct economic stake in the outcome.
In Germany, where Russian hackers have previously taken aim at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union, there are concerns Russian cyber-meddlers could help tilt federal elections toward the far-right Alternative for Germany party, which has made gains in recent regional elections in part because of public distrust of Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis. Merkel, even before announcing she would run for a fourth term as chancellor, had warned Russian hacking was now a part of daily life and could be a factor in the elections.