Russian trace in US midterm elections: declassified US Intelligence report

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Foreign Threats to the 2022 US Elections on December 18, 2023. It contains valuable information about the interference of Russia in the US midterm elections.

The Intelligence Community Assessment reveals that the Russian government and its proxies actively worked to undermine confidence in the US election, with the primary goal of eroding support for Ukraine and fostering distrust in US democratic institutions. Kremlin-affiliated entities conducted extensive research to target specific demographics, employing various narratives and platforms to manipulate US audiences.

The overarching strategy involved exacerbating existing social and political tensions and casting doubt on democratic processes through online information operations.

Russian efforts sought to weaken US backing for Ukraine by incorporating propaganda narratives into their influence campaigns. While acknowledging bipartisan support for Ukraine, Russian actors disproportionately targeted the Democratic Party, possibly due to Moscow’s perception of the US President’s role in shaping Western alliances and Kyiv’s pro-Western trajectory.

Some Republican politicians were also criticized by Moscow because they were perceived as anti-Russian by the Kremlin.

Russia targeted both left- and right-leaning audiences to widen its impact. Tactics included appealing to constituencies sympathetic to Russia’s “traditional values” and targeting individuals who felt disadvantaged by the administration’s policies or restricted by social media censorship.

Left-leaning audiences were influenced by the suggestion that supporting Ukraine could lead to a war between the US and Russia.

Moscow also accused the US President and his family of corrupt activities connected to Ukraine. For instance, Russian officials publicly claimed that US charitable foundations, including those linked to the Clintons and Hunter Biden, had funded alleged biological research labs in Ukraine, a claim used by Russians to justify their war that was widely debunked in the media.

The overarching goal of Russia was to undermine confidence in democratic institutions, creating opportunities to exploit ideological divisions in the United States. Claims were made about the vulnerability of voting software, with assertions of anticipated cheating undermining the midterm elections. Russian influence actors also cast doubt on the integrity of the vote by suggesting that the White House was preparing to falsify the Congressional elections in November.

Even after the midterm elections, Russian online influence campaigns continued to amplify narratives about alleged voting abnormalities and fraud, particularly in Arizona. Additionally, a conspiracy theory was pushed, suggesting that Ukraine had invested US aid money in the FTX cryptocurrency exchange to benefit Democratic campaigns.

However, sanctions and reputational damage resulting from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 impeded some pro-Russia individuals working in Moscow’s interests.

The Intelligence Community acknowledged links between pro-Russian proxies and influential US political circles but did not observe specific efforts aimed at influencing the midterm elections.

This circumstance indicates that sanctions against Russia imposed by the USA and European countries have a significant impact on the Russian Federation, undermining its capabilities to interfere in foreign elections.

Notwithstanding this fact, Western nations should continue punishing countries and entities that assist Russia in circumventing sanctions, thus fueling Putin’s war in Ukraine.

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