A senior U.S. official, who like other officials spoke to reporters Tuesday on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, said the administration decided to declassify some of the review’s findings in an attempt to counter Russia’s ability to sway political systems in countries in Europe, Africa and elsewhere.
“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,” the official said.
Countries where such activities were identified included Albania, Montenegro, Madagascar and, potentially, Ecuador, according to an administration source familiar with the matter.
Officials pointed to one Asian country, which they declined to name, where they said the Russian ambassador gave millions of dollars in cash to a presidential candidate. They said that Kremlin-linked forces have also used shell companies, think tanks and other means to influence political events, sometimes to the benefit of far-right groups.
The senior official said the U.S. government detected an uptick in Russian covert political financing in 2014. The review did not address Russian activities within the United States.
Assessments by both U.S. spy agencies and a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia under President Vladimir Putin launched a campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to assist then-candidate Donald Trump.
A State Department démarche Monday to U.S. embassies in more than 100 countries described the alleged Russian activities and suggested steps the United States can take to push back, including sanctions, travel bans or the expulsion of Russian spies involved in political financing activities.
The cable, which officials provided to reporters, named Russian oligarchs it said were involved in what it described as “financing schemes,” including Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Aleksandr Babakov. Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” after making vast sums in Russian government catering contracts, was charged by U.S. officials in 2018 with attempting to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. He has been linked to the private military firm Wagner and is wanted by the FBI.
U.S. diplomats are briefing counterparts in other countries about the activities, which American officials believe could go far beyond the nations and sums that have been identified.
“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the senior official said. “So rather than sit on the sidelines, we are sharing these response measures.”