Putin could cite war in Ukraine to meddle in US politics: Intelligence

Russian President Vladimir Putin could use the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine as a pretext to order a new campaign of interference in US politics, US intelligence officials have said.

Intelligence agencies have so far found no evidence that Putin authorized moves like those Russia allegedly took in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections to support former President Donald Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter. who expressed themselves conditionally. anonymity to discuss sensitive findings.

But given Putin’s antipathy to the West and his repeated denunciations of Ukraine, officials believe he may view US support for the Ukrainian resistance as a direct affront to him, giving him more incentive to aim for another US election, the people said. It is not yet clear which candidates Russia might try to promote or what methods it might use.

The assessment comes with the US electoral system already under pressure. The American public remains sharply divided over the last presidential election and the ensuing uprising on the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters tried to block the certification of his defeat to President Joe Biden. Trump has repeatedly attacked intelligence officials and claimed investigations into Russian influence on his campaigns are political vendettas.

Tensions between Washington and Moscow have reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War. The White House has increased its military support for Ukraine, which has mounted a vigorous resistance against Russian forces accused of committing war crimes, and helped impose global sanctions that have crippled the Russian economy.

There is no sign that the war will end soon, which some experts say could prevent Moscow from continuing its retaliatory action as its resources are bogged down in Ukraine. But “it is almost certain that a Russian army exhausted after Ukraine will again redouble its hybrid tactics to wreak havoc against us and other allied countries,” said David Salvo, deputy director of the Alliance for securitization. of Democracy from the German Marshall Fund.

In Ukraine and in past campaigns against adversaries, Russia has been accused of trying to spread disinformation, amplify pro-Kremlin voices in the West and use cyberattacks to disrupt governments.

Top US intelligence officials are still working on plans for a new center authorized by Congress and focusing on foreign influence campaigns by Russia, China and other adversaries. Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence, also recently appointed career CIA officer Jeffrey Wichman as director of election threats several months after the departure of the previous director, Shelby Pierson.

“Our Election Threats Executive continues to lead the intelligence community’s efforts against foreign threats to the U.S. election,” Nicole de Haay, a spokeswoman for Haines, said in a statement. “We also continue to work to meet the legislative requirement to establish a center to integrate foreign malignant influence intelligence,” she added.

De Haay declined to comment on what intelligence officials think of Putin’s intentions. The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.

Foreign adversaries have long sought to interfere in US politics, according to past election investigations and indictments against suspected foreign agents. The United States has accused Putin of ordering influence operations to try to help Trump in the 2020 election. And a bipartisan Senate investigation into the 2016 election confirmed intelligence findings that the Russia has used cyber espionage and information efforts to boost Trump and disparage his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation found no conclusive evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, but Mueller declined to pass judgment on whether Trump obstructed the justice.

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