Russia’s increasing influence

A regular attack launched at Donald Trump in the recent US Presidential election campaign was his worryingly warm attitude to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, more serious was accusations of Russian hacking and complicity in various scandals through the campaign.

At the beginning of this year, it was reported that American intelligence agencies were conducting an investigation into how the Kremlin is influencing politics across Europe.  There are major fears in US intelligence that the Russians are determined to exploit European disunity to undermine NATO, block US missile defence programs and revoke sanctions put in place after Russia’s actions in Crimea.

These alleged activities are not exactly unique to the US and there is increasing concern across Europe that Russia is attempting to play a more active role in elections.

Currently, Russia is in a very volatile place, economically damaged by a fall in commodity prices, Russia is also being punished by the EU for its secretive activities in Ukraine through a series of sanctions including trade embargoes and the freezing of the bank accounts of many of Putin’s allies.

In addition to that, the world is watching on as Putin’s forces put their full weight behind propping up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The horrendous images emerging from Aleppo showing the full extent of the carnage rained down by the Russian air force.

Faced with the prospect of ever worsening relations with near neighbours in Europe, it appears that the Russians either directly or indirectly have been trying to influence the outcome of elections in a number of states both inside and outside the EU.

An example of Russian influence on internal European political events was showcased in the Netherlands in April. Dutch citizens were asked to vote on the Trade agreement between the EU and Ukraine. The Dutch far left and far right arguably used this referendum to undermine the elected centre right, economically liberal government.

Pro-Russian supporters stage a protest asking for the self-determination of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands, on March 14, 2014. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Pro-Russian supporters stage a protest asking for the self-determination of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague, The Netherlands, on March 14, 2014. (REMKO DE WAAL/AFP/Getty Images)

The Washington Post reported that there has been a large amount of Russian disinformation spreading in the Netherlands over the last few years with many of the “no” campaign’s arguments, literature and even photographs being sourced directly from Russia Today and Sputnik.

Russia agreed a deal in 2015 with Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, to build reactors at the Paks power plant in return for €10 billion in tied credits. Orban has been one of Putin’s strongest supporters in the EU.

Hungary was the venue for only the second visit by Putin to an EU country since the conflict in Ukraine broke out. The arguably fascist leaning second largest party in Hungary (Jobbik) is firmly pro Russia, with its most senior member of the European Parliament being accused of being a Russian agent.  Hungary is also littered with pro-Russian propaganda websites.

Ex-Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, recently resigned claiming that “We have the strong involvement of foreign factors when it comes to the process of Montenegro’s parliamentary elections.” A recent attempted coup allegedly had links with the Democratic Front, a pro-Russian political alliance in Montenegro which is Mr. Djukanovic main political opponent.

A Montenegrin prosecutor said unidentified Russian nationalists were behind the Election Day plot to assassinate the country’s prime minister and take over power because of his government’s NATO membership bid. The Kremlin has denied involvement.

Hans-Georg Maassen, "This could happen again next year and we are alarmed, We have the impression that this is part of a hybrid threat that seeks to influence public opinion and decision-making processes. - Maassen on Russian influence" Berlin, Germany, June 28, 2016.    REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 “This could happen again next year and we are alarmed, We have the impression that this is part of a hybrid threat that seeks to influence public opinion and decision-making processes.” – Maassen on Russian influence. Berlin, Germany, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Ahead of the German Federal elections next year, the head of the German intelligence service has gone on record as saying that he fears that Russia is “interfering” in campaigns. Hans-Georg Massen in an interview to Reuters recently echoed comments made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which she warned of Russian cyber-attacks and a disinformation campaign in the run-up to next year’s election.

Berlin also suspects Russia to be behind a number of cyber-attacks on German institutions, including a massive attack last year on the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, as well as separate attacks on the headquarters of Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In France, pollsters predict that Marie Le Pen’s Front National could win between 24-30% of the votes during the 2017 presidential elections.  According to News 24, the massive growth of the Front National has coincided with a cash transfer of at least €9 million euros from the Russian Federation via the First Russian-Czech Bank in 2014. Information leaked this month revealed that due to the Front National being unable to receive loans from French and other European banks; they are currently in negotiations to receive a loan sum of €24 million euros from Russia.

In Bulgaria, Rumen Radev, a Russia-friendly newcomer to politics, won last Sunday’s presidential election by a wide margin, prompting centre-right Prime Minister Boiko Borisov to promise to resign. Radev entered Bulgarian politics on a wave of discontent with the ruling centre-right’s progress in combating corruption, disappointment with the European Union and concerns among voters over alienating an increasingly assertive Russia.

A former air force commander, Radev has argued Bulgaria needs to be pragmatic in balancing the requirements of its European Union and NATO memberships while seeking ways to benefit from a relationship with Moscow.

Radev has not advocated Bulgaria abandon its Western alliances, mindful of the financial impact of EU aid and the country’s long history of divided loyalties. But he has called for an end to EU sanctions against Russia and said Sofia should be pragmatic in its approach to any international law violations by Moscow when it annexed Crimea.

This week in the Seanad I raised my concerns that the Irish Government may, unwittingly, be supporting Russian state sponsored propaganda. Television station Russia Today is funded by the Russian Government to sum of $309 million in 2016, it has offices around the world including in Dublin. The worrying thing, in my opinion, is that their Dublin office is based in the Digital Hub. Based in Dublin’s Liberties, the Digital Hub is a state funded agency under the auspices of the Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment. The Digital Hub is meant to be an incubation centre for emerging enterprises in the digital and media arena.

While there is no doubt that Russia Today, not broadcast in Russian, comes under media, I must query if the Irish Government should be essentially subsidising a channel has been sanctioned by Ofcom no less than 15 times being accused repeatedly seeking to deliberately mislead viewers by use of a political agenda.


Based in Dublin Rathdown, Senator Neale Richmond is the Government spokesperson on EU affairs in Seanad Eireann.

  • On the fence!

    If there was a big scary dog guarding a lane that you had to travel along on a regular basis, what would you do? Run at it, throw stones at it, shout at it, threaten it, rattle it’s kennel when it’s asleep?

    Or be nice to it, give it the odd biscuit, speak in gentle friendly tones. You wouldn’t have to be friendly or even like it, just keep in with it enough to get doing what you need to do.

    The first hasn’t worked (not surprisingly) so the second is surely worth a try.

  • Roger

    Can we have another referendum on the Seanad please?

  • Slater

    Russia Today may be totally biased but unlike the BBC you know that it is.
    It is also more interesting despite its gross pro-Kremlinism.
    Both are utterly one-sided when it comes to the US election.

  • Donagh

    Astounding anti-Russian hysteria being whipped up on the back of innuendo and half truths. No mention of western backed overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian government by neo-Nazis, nor that Russia was invited into Syria to help defend the secular government against western back jihadi head-choppers, nor NATOs ever increasing expansion and deployment eastwards to Russia’s borders in violation of previous treaties. I could go on all day about the holes in Mr Richmond’s propaganda but since he has such a problem with state subsidised media outlets perhaps he would share his views on the massive amounts of money provided to state owned RTE and BBC and how this differs from the support given to RT?

  • Karl

    “….repeatedly seeking to deliberately mislead viewers by use of a political agenda.”
    RTE, Independent newspapers.They wouldnt do that, would they?

  • Gopher

    All very well if the scary dog is prepared to stay in its lane, the thing is however that the scary dog rightly or wrongly believes it can bite people outside its lane.
    Now the rub is if there were just one scary dog it would just be a case of appetite, but we have 3 scary dogs and a mongrel breed that thinks its a Carolingian terrier. The Scary dog in our hemisphere and the Carolingan terrier get hung up on method whilst your Scary dog dont. Your scary dog validates the argument a jihadi aint worth a million pound missle when a cheap and cheerful unguided munition will do. The fact that “innocents” might get kiled in the process resonates less in Russia than in the west where we have a naive outlook on war. That makes your Scary dog quite frightening to Guardian readers.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Predictably, as with most of what the MSM says, the opposite is true of most of the claims about Russia. Russia is not going crazy with aggression and wanting to invade everywhere. It is the US and Western powers that are the aggressors in the first place, causing the reaction from Russia.

    The problems in Ukraine were caused by the US covert overthrow of the elected Ukrainian PM a few years ago, and then installing a pro Western one. Obama has actually admitted this, and you can search the web and read a lot about it.
    Here is an article with lots of link from Zero Hedge

    Interestingly, the Crimea was actually part of Russia for centauries up until 1954 when it was given to Ukraine.

    None of this was mentioned on the MSM news when Russia suddenly inexplicably invaded Ukraine. How out of the blue was that? !! Where they going to take the entire Ukraine, or jus the east? We in MSM land hadn’t a clue…
    Considering the west overthrew the leader and installed their own in a country right on the Russian border. Is the Russian annexation of Crimea, that used to be part of Russia and the people there identify themselves as Russian, really that surprising?

    The NATO western build up against Russia, especially over Syria, is one of the reasons people voted for Trump and not Clinton. The elite controlled US is pushing for war with Russia. A large factor in the Trump vote was his friendly comments towards Russia, making him the route to avoid WW3.

    The NATO build up initiated first

    Another great article from Zero Hedge, how a vote for Clinton would be WW3.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    On bias – The Washington Post is the totally biased news source. I don’t know much about bias at RT, but I do know that they report news that the western MSM will not. They also interview anti establishment people like UKIP and pro leave people. The BBC is totally establishment biased, and is still pushing the ‘leaving the EU is the end of the world’ hysteria, and blaming everything on the ‘brexit vote’.

  • npbinni

    Obama’s Russia policy is clearly an unmitigated disaster. A resurgence Russia, permitted, even encouraged by Obama to return to Middle East politics (if Kissinger were dead, he would be turning in his grave), has created a much more dangerous world. Obama obviously was well out of his depth in foreign affairs. Will Trump do any better? Here’s hoping.

  • Starviking

    Crimea was the home of the Crimean Tatars for centuries, before Stalin deported them en masse in the 1940s.

  • Methinks, Neale, the runaway reality for the Wild Wacky West is their rapidly expanding loss of influence with failing narratives and corrupt and politically incorrect inept scripts …… remotely controlled instructions to follow.

    Nowadays one has to be considerably smarter and more astutely aware of the means and memes by which all manner of bodies, both heavenly and foul, are manipulated and directed, to have any chance of leading anything to anywhere long-term attractive and worthwhile.

    And such a realisation suggests that one of, and maybe even the most acute present day global problem for solution with resolutions today, is a lack of advanced intelligence in human chains of command and control ………

    Try something completely different and something completely different will result. With EMPowering IT and Alternative Media Command and Control, it is not as if it is difficult to deliver whatever is needed or whatever one wants, is it?

    And surely you too would agree with those simply enough stated facts, Mick?

  • Tochais Siorai

    It looks like you’re a fan of Russia Today as a source of information anyway, Donagh. Now, why not try actually reading the OP? Richmond is not arguing against state subsidising their own media outlets – he is arguing against the Irish state subsidising Russia Today via the Digital Hub.

    ‘Western backed Jihadi head choppers’ – Hilarious. Try this one – Your so-called Syrian secular govt, and their Russian friends are directly responsible for over 90% of civilian deaths in Syria.

    ‘western backed overthrow of the democratically elected Ukrainian government by neo-Nazis….’ More parrotspeak. The Orange Revolution was a non-violent mass movement which overthrew a corrupt regime that took power after a massively rigged election.

    What have you got for us next? Donald Trump, harbinger of world peace?
    How the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact protected the Soviet worker’s paradise?