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US warns of Russian efforts to turn public opinion against Ukraine in upcoming European elections

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk January 19, 2024 11:41 AM 2 min read
People walk past posters announcing the upcoming European elections at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Jan. 17, 2024. (Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images)
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Russia plans to use "information operations" in a bid to turn public opinion against Ukraine in the lead-up to key elections across Europe in 2024, said Jamie Rubin, the special envoy and coordinator for the U.S. State Department's Global Engagement Center (GEC), in comments to reporters on Jan. 18.

Russia's use of disinformation to further its own goals and weaken its perceived adversaries has been widely documented. Russian disinformation operations have been implicated in several key elections around the world, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Brexit vote in the U.K. in the same year.

There have been concerns that such efforts will be repeated in 2024 as dozens of countries are set to hold elections.

Rubin did not specify which countries he was particularly concerned about, but said that the primary targets would likely be in Europe.

Elections in Austria, the U.K., and the European Parliament are scheduled to take place in 2024. A parliamentary election will also occur in Georgia, which analysts have described as a "pivotal" opportunity for the country to make a "choice between East and West."

"Russia is hoping that the number of elections in Europe this year could change what has been a remarkable coalition and disciplined opposition to its war," said Rubin.

"We do believe that the Russians will conduct information operations throughout Europe to try to change opinion on Ukraine during this election season," he added.

In recent months, Russia has been accused of funding disinformation campaigns across Latin America and the Middle East in an effort to sow division and "undermine support for Ukraine."

Beyond seeking to influence public opinion, Russia has also wielded information operations for more specific purposes. The Finnish media outlet YLE reported in December 2023, citing leaked documents, that Russian intelligence services planned a series of disruptive activities to prevent, or at least hinder, Sweden and Finland's accession to NATO.

The planned activities, which YLE said did not appear to have actually taken place in Finland, sought to increase discord between Turkey and other NATO countries, especially Sweden, as the two Nordic countries began the process of joining the alliance.

Finland joined the alliance in April 2023, but Sweden's accession has been delayed, largely due to hesitation from Turkey.

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