Russia paid 300 $ million to influence foreign elections, says Washington

Russia has quietly sent at least US$300 million (about C$395 million) to political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in an attempt to influence elections there, according to a U.S. intelligence estimate released Tuesday.

The U.S. “considers these to be minimum estimates, and that Russia likely secretly transferred more funds that have not been identified,” a senior U.S. official said.

“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he told reporters on condition of anonymity.

U.S. intelligence did not specify the names of the countries involved. In the past, U.S. officials have cited Bosnia or Ecuador as examples of countries where Russia has exerted direct influence through its economic power.

Among the most striking cases cited in the new analysis is that of a Russian ambassador posted in an Asian country who gave millions of dollars to a presidential candidate.

In Europe, Moscow has used sham contracts and front companies to fund political parties, while Russian state-owned companies have funneled funds as far away as Central America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, according to Washington.

Russia has sometimes sent cash, but has also used cryptocurrencies and “luxury” gifts, according to the intelligence.

Joe Biden’s administration had requested the estimate from his staff in the wake of the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which led the United States to do everything possible to isolate Moscow and arm Kiev.

The senior official said U.S. diplomacy would share the findings with the governments of more than 100 other countries.

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This new assessment did not analyze Russian interference in American politics.

But U.S. intelligence agencies have previously accused Russia of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, including using social media to support Donald Trump, who had expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. is “working hard to address (its) weaknesses” and encourages “other countries to do the same and (join) us in this important effort,” the official said.

An internal State Department document, sent to U.S. representations abroad, claims that Russia conducted the fundraising campaign to “increase its influence over individuals and parties” and then ensure that they “perform well in elections.”

U.S. accusations of interference are often met with jeers from Russian officials, who refer U.S. intelligence to its support for coups in Iran or Chile.