Compromising emails, generous donations to loyal parties and sacks of money for political barkers. Finally - a continuous wave of fake news. Has Putin already paid homage to half of Europe?
The fact that the Kremlin watches over the course of elections outside Russia is nothing new to Poles. After all, we have experienced it the hard way more than once. For example, in 1764, when Stanisław August Poniatowski was elected king of Poland. It took place with the assistance of "foreign observers", that is ... the Russian army. Our eastern neighbor also took care of the results of the 1946 referendum. NKVD officers worked on its "correct" course.
Today the NKVD is no more. Instead, there are hackers, internet trolls, "green men" and journalists paid in rubles. It turns out that sometimes this is enough for Putin's candidate to win.
Abkhazia is a tiny pseudo-state that broke away from Georgia in the 1990s. Only four countries in the world recognize its existence. These are Nicaragua, Nauru, Venezuela and Russia. The latter, in fact, treats the republic as its own territory. He even grants Abkhazians Russian citizenship.
Raul Khajimba is Putin's trusted man in Abkhazia.
Moscow is so interested in the internal affairs of the Caucasian state that it even put forward its own candidate in the presidential election in 2004. Mikhail Zygar describes a special way of selecting the Kremlin favorite in his book "All the Kremlin's People":
The pro-Russian candidate was selected on the basis of only one criterion - the one Putin liked the most. Putin did not have time (or desire) to see the candidates, so he randomly indicated the head of the local KGB .
Raul Khajimba - because we are talking about him - was supported by FSB officers. They fled to the capital of the republic, Sukhumi, to help him win. Their duties included, among other things, pretending to be specialists. In television broadcasts, they convinced the Abkhazians of the superiority of the politician anointed by the Kremlin. However, their strenuous efforts failed. Opposition candidate Sergei Bagapsh became president.
The slap aimed at Putin did not go unanswered. Russia expressed its dissatisfaction by banning the import of Abkhazian mandarins . They are the main source of income for the country. In this situation, Bagapsh was forced to agree to repeat the elections. This time he guaranteed Khajimba the seat of vice president. The duo won the elections with a result of over 90%, and Russia retained its influence in the republic.
Russia was interested in Ukraine's affairs with the same commitment as Abkhazia. According to the author of the book "All the people of the Kremlin," Putin had a precise view on this from the very beginning of his presidency. "We have to deal with Ukraine or we will lose it" - he often told his officials . And as long as Kiev was ruled by Leonid Kuchma (1994–2005), the Russian leader could sleep peacefully.
The problems began when Kuchma needed to find a successor. The outgoing president appointed Viktor Yanukovych, the then prime minister, to the post. The fact that he could afford to pay for his own election campaign was in his favor. He also had a reputation for being intellectually not very volatile, which suggested that he would be easy to subjugate.
Viktor Yanukovych was to be the man who would obediently steer Ukraine.
It did not take long to support the Kremlin. Yanukovych was surrounded by Russian PR specialists and FSB agents. Putin himself also appeared in Kiev to praise "his" candidate on the occasion of the anniversary of the city's liberation from the hands of the Germans.
Putin's orange defeat
Yanukovych's most serious competitor was the advocate of integration with the West, Viktor Yushchenko. He enjoyed considerable sympathy from voters, which grew even after the unsuccessful - and until today unexplained - attempt on his life . Perhaps it was the dioxin poisoning he suffered that made him a slightly better result in the first round of the vote than the Kremlin candidate.
Ultimately, however, in the second round of voting, which took place on November 21, 2004, Yanukovych won. This was at least indicated by the exit poll polls , later confirmed by the ruling of the election commission. Putin congratulated the elect practically right after the end of the vote, without waiting for the official announcement of the results.
Viktor Yushchenko and his Orange Revolution thwarted Putin's plans in Ukraine.
The Russian leader, however, was one of the few to recognize the results of the November elections. Western observers pointed to numerous irregularities in the course of voting. Meanwhile, supporters of Yushchenko began to gather in Kiev's Independence Square to oppose Putin's involvement in their country's internal affairs. They also openly accused Yanukovych's team of electoral fraud, including adding filled ballots to the ballot boxes.
Day by day, the square was filled with more and more crowds. Putin pressured Kuchma to chase the demonstrators by force. However, this did not happen, and the so-called Orange Revolution (the name comes from the colors of Yushchenko's election staff) led to a repeat of the second round of elections. The vote on December 26 brought victory to the pro-Western candidate.
According to Vladimir Putin, it is not Russian soldiers that are fighting in the Crimea, but green men.
The green men land in Crimea
In the case of Ukraine, the Kremlin did not limit itself to merely meddling in the election process. Another wave of protests that broke out in Ukraine in November 2013 was an excellent occasion for another interference. The president of the country was then… Yanukovych, who rebuilt his position after the scandal in 2004 and took over from Yushchenko. The decision to resign from signing an association agreement with the European Union became a flash point. The conflict, further aggravated by the use of force against the demonstrators , led to the dismissal of the president from office.
The Russians closely watched the development of events in their southern neighbor. And they decided to take advantage of the chaos in the country. On February 20, 2014, they sent "green men" to Sevastopol. This was the name of soldiers without distinctions who gradually took over strategic military and administrative facilities in Crimea. In the Kremlin, it was claimed that they were local self-defense units. Their official task was to protect the Russian-speaking population from the Banderites and fascists as it was assumed to be called pro-Western Ukrainians.
Russia's dominance in Crimea was sanctioned by the referendum on March 16, 2014. In the vote, the inhabitants of the peninsula decided whether they wanted to be subordinate to Moscow. This solution was inconsistent with Ukrainian legislation, but the intimidated Crimean Supreme Council agreed to it. Nobody really cared about the authorities in Kiev.
The war in Donbas is accompanied by pro-Russian demonstrations,
According to official results, the turnout was eighty-three percent. Ninety-seven percent of voters voted in favor of joining Crimea to Russia. However, the annexation of the peninsula did not satisfy the Russian appetite. The "green men" moved to Donbas, in eastern Ukraine. As a result of the pseudo-referendum, the so-called people's republics were established there:Lugansk and Donetsk. None of them are internationally recognized.
Failed coup, but success in the elections
Moscow is trying at all costs to hinder the former Soviet republics from getting closer to the West. This was the case in November 2016 in Moldova. During the presidential elections, two visions of the country's future clashed there. Maia Sandu was in favor of European integration, and Igor Dodon was in favor of tightening relations with Russia. The latter could count on media and financial support from beyond the eastern border . This time it paid off. The Kremlin candidate won with a five percent lead.
Putin's imperial policy is not only confined to the former Soviet republics, but goes further and further west. A group of Serbs who were arrested in October 2016 in Montenegro on suspicion of preparing an attempted coup d'état are suspected of Russian connections.
Igor Dodon is a frequent visitor to the Kremlin.
Apparently, the bombers, together with the pro-Russian opposition, wanted to start riots in the country's capital, Podgorica. This would allow them to take over the parliament building and prevent the elections scheduled for 16 October from being held. According to the Montenegrin prosecutor general, their main goal was to block Montenegro's accession to NATO. Russia, however, strongly rejects any accusations that it is related to this case.
Ruble, Leaks and Disappointment
The Kremlin's interests in the West are also taken care of by ... Russian banks. Western nationalist parties, whose aim is to weaken European integration and strengthen relations with Moscow, are particularly fond of them. Groups such as the Hungarian Jobbik, the French National Front, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Italian Northern League and the Austrian Freedom Party have more than once received loans worth millions of euros .
The situation of the French National Front looks most suspicious in this context. Journalists discovered that the party took loans from Russian banks that ranked very low in the financial rankings. By some strange coincidence, the banks went bankrupt shortly after the money was transferred.
Marine Le Pen does not hide his close relations with Russia.
All indications are that there was in fact no loan, only a simple transfer. The "subsidy" was probably commissioned by the Kremlin. After all, former leader of the party and candidate in the 2017 presidential election, Marine Le Pen has repeatedly supported Russia's policy towards Crimea. It also voiced its opposition to the imposition of sanctions on the Putin regime.
It is possible that funding from the National Front was not the only Russian contribution to the French elections. Le Pen's opponent, Emmanuel Macron, fell victim to a hacking attack just before the second round of the elections. Nine gigabytes of data, including private e-mails and financial settlements, leaked into the network. The shadow of suspicion fell on the Russian hackers. The more so because similar cyber attacks also took place in the United States.
Thousands of e-mails were stolen from the National Democratic Party Committee during the US election campaign. They were then forwarded to Wikileaks. The leak of confidential data was supposed to discredit Hillary Clinton in the eyes of voters and perhaps contributed to her loss in the race to the White House . The winner, Donald Trump, surrounded himself with people with rather ambiguous connections with Russia after taking up his position.
Instead of rifles - fake news
From the media side, the Russians have mastered the publication of so-called fake news . This is false or semi-true information intended to evoke extreme emotions and polarize society. A peculiar testing ground in this field was the war in Donbas.
In social networks, there was information about crucified by Banderites Russian baby . As it turned out later, it was sucked out of the finger. In addition, photographs showing piles of bodies were widely available. They allegedly constituted evidence of the crimes committed by the Ukrainian army. Meanwhile, the photos were not from Donbass, but from Syria.
Russia is taking similar actions in the countries of NATO and the European Union. They are particularly dangerous in countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, where the Russian population constitutes a large percentage of the population. Fake news there, they can not only influence voting preferences, but also lead to tensions and acts of violence.
Untested information is a powerful weapon that Russia uses without hesitation.
How to protect yourself from imaginary revelations that may pose a threat to public order? The Czech Republic proposed an interesting formula. A special office was established there - the Center for Combating Terrorism and Hybrid Threats. Its purpose is to control the content published on the Internet and to alert the public to false information. According to officials from the Czech Ministry of the Interior, conspiracy theories spread on forums and social networks are intended to cast doubt on the sense of European integration and democratic values. In other words, everything the Kremlin sincerely hates.
We will soon find out if the new cell will prove successful in its role. In 2017, the Czechs elect the parliament, and a year later - the president. May this time the voice of Vladimir Putin would not be stronger than the one thrown into the ballot box.