While revelations about Russian involvement in the American presidential election rock the United States, there are ominous signs that Russia is spreading propaganda and engaging in cyberattacks in Europe in advance of several national elections next year. In 2017, Germany, France and the Netherlands will hold elections. It is also possible that Italy will move elections scheduled for 2018 forward in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after voters rejected a referendum on constitutional reforms this month. Candidates who are right-wing populists and friendly toward Russia are gaining ground across Europe, thanks, in part, to Russian interference along the lines of what Moscow was accused of doing in the United States. Russia’s goals in Europe appear to be to elect foreign leaders who are sympathetic to Russian expansionism, to weaken NATO and to fan anti-European Union forces. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party benefited in 2014 from an $11.7 million Kremlin loan to help finance its campaigns. And the winner of the center-right Les Républicains party’s recent primary elections, François Fillon, has called for lifting sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and its war in Ukraine, and for working with Russia to curb immigration and prevent terrorism.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s populist Party for Freedom has surged, with a Donald Trump look-alike “Make the Netherlands Great Again” campaign, which is anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. Mr. Wilders is calling for an exit from the European Union. Matteo Salvini of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League opposes sanctions on Russia and boasts of his trips to Moscow.
Germany is a prime target of interference: Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for re-election, has stood strong on defending liberal values, the unity of Europe and sanctions against Russia. Germany’s intelligence agency has concluded that Russia was very likely behind the hacking of the Parliament’s computer network in 2015, and suspicion is high that it is also behind an attack last month that cut internet and telephone service for 900,000 Germans.
Full Article: Russian Meddling and Europe’s Elections – The New York Times.