Over the last few years, the world has witnessed Russia’s interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries: from meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom, to the military occupation of Ukrainian territories. In its subversive operations the Kremlin hacked into servers, subjected infrastructure and organizations to cyberattacks, and deployed legions of internet trolls on social media to spread lies and disinformation. In response to Kremlin threat, an international rapid-response team will monitor and expose any attempts by Russia to interfere in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential elections in 2019. The team is comprised of experts from the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank, the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, the Razumkov Center, a Ukrainian think tank, and Stop Fake, a multilingual volunteer project for debunking Russian propaganda.
The idea for the task force was proposed by Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, whose philanthropic foundation in on the list of partners too, John Herbst, director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, told reporters in Kyiv on Dec. 12.
“The main threat comes from the Kremlin, but if there is interference from other outside sources we will expose it too,” said team leader David J. Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state.
He added that Ukraine is still, unfortunately, a testing ground for Kremlin tactics, and what happens here is likely to be replayed elsewhere later.
Atlantic Council senior fellow Laura Galante will be in charge of cybersecurity operations, closely monitoring not only attempts to sabotage Ukraine’s voting system, but also cyberattacks on the country’s power grids, airport control systems, and mobile networks. In 2015-2017, Ukraine saw a spite of malware attacks on its power grid, government offices, banks, and businesses, and experts reckon there is a risk that the same will happen next year.
Another Atlantic Council fellow, Jakub Kalenský, leads the disinformation component of the new task force. A co-founder of Hromadske International and a research fellow at the Atlantic Council, Maxim Eristavi, will help with media. Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director for foreign relations and security programs at the Razumkov Center, is in charge of foreign interference monitoring.