'tip of the iceberg'
Russia has secretly given at least $300 million to foreign political parties, candidates, and officials in more than 24 countries since 2014 in order to shift elections and shape political events in Moscow's favor, the Biden administration said Tuesday. U.S. intelligence agencies detected Russia trying to buy influence in Albania, Montenegro, Madagascar, and maybe Ecuador, a U.S. official told reporters, and Russia's ambassador to one Asian country gave millions of dollars in cash to a presidential candidate in that country.
U.S. intelligence "assesses that these are minimum figures and that Russia likely has transferred additional funds covertly in cases that have gone undetected," a senior Biden administration official said. "By shining this light on Russian covert political financing and Russian attempts to undermine democratic processes, we're putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they accept Russian money secretly we can and we will expose it."
"We think this is just the tip of the iceberg," the official said. Most countries were not identified by name, and the intelligence review did not examine Russian activities inside the U.S., though "there's no question that we have this vulnerability as well," the official said.
The U.S. declassified the intelligence on Russian political interference to disseminate it among other countries — U.S. embassies in more than 100 countries were sent the information Monday — and share it with the public, as it has with other intelligence on the Kremlin's intentions and actions since the lead-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February. The information sent to the embassies identified Russian oligarchs — among them "Putin's chef" Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov, who allegedly financed a far-right party in France — involved in political "financing schemes."
This interference in foreign elections and politics is "an assault on sovereignty," State Department spokesman Ned Price said. "In order to fight this, in many ways we have to put a spotlight on it."
"The U.S. has meddled in foreign elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946-2000, not including coups or attempts at regime change," BBC News notes, citing a database kept by Carnegie Mellon University researcher Dov Levin.