By the time Montenegro’s police got wind of the plans, the 2016 election-day coup plot was about to launch. Disguised as police, the plotters would storm the Parliament in Podgorica, firing at citizens awaiting election results and generally creating chaos. They would declare their favored candidates the real winners of the elections, and would detain and perhaps assassinate the prime minister. If breaking up a plotted coup at the last minute wasn’t shocking enough, when Montenegrin officials investigated the plan it quickly became clear that the source of this planned chaos wasn’t even local. The plan began with Russia. At the same time in the United States, voters were hearing the first warnings about what would come to be known Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Later, the notion of possible collusion by members of the campaign of President Donald Trump would be added.
But this is what Russian active measures to interfere in a democratic election looked like in the tiny Balkans nation of Montenegro last year. This cautionary tale came from testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. The committee investigating Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election listened to witnesses talk about what Russia has done across Europe. As committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., stated in his opening statement, the American focus remains on “paid social media trolls,” fake news and hacking.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., explained that “Russia’s blatant interference in the United States’ 2016 presidential election was unprecedented in scale and scope, and we’ve seen it replicated across Europe. In fact, Russia’s active measures are only growing bolder and more brazen in the digital age.”
The lesson, however, from the testimony to the committee on Wednesday was obvious: As troubling as Russia’s attempts to interfere in the last U.S. election might have been, it could get much worse in the future.