Russia has covertly sent at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in bids to gain influence, a declassified US intelligence assessment said Tuesday.
US intelligence “assesses that these are minimum figures and that Russia likely has transferred additional funds covertly in cases that have gone undetected,” a senior administration official said.
“We think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The US intelligence did not declassify information on specific countries. Previously US officials have pointed to Bosnia and Ecuador as countries where Russia has intervened directly through its financial power.
In one of the most egregious cases cited in the new assessment, US intelligence said that the Russian ambassador in an unnamed Asian country provided millions of dollars to a presidential candidate.
In Europe, Russia has used fictitious contracts and shell companies to fund parties, while its state-owned companies have directly funneled covert funding in Central America, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the assessment said.
Russia has at times sent cash but has also made use of crypto-currencies and “lavish” gifts, the assessment said.
President Joe Biden’s administration requested the assessment following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which prompted a major US effort to isolate Moscow and arm Kyiv.
The administration official said that US diplomats were sharing their findings with governments in more than 100 nations.
The official described the effort as part of Biden’s “Summit of Democracies” initiative launched after he defeated Donald Trump.
The new assessment did not cover domestic US politics but previously US intelligence said that Moscow intervened in the 2016 election, notably through manipulation of social media, to support Trump, who has voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The United States is working hard to address our vulnerabilities and we are encouraging other countries to do the same,” the official said.
A demarche, or internal statement, from the State Department to US missions around the world said that Russia has carried out the covert campaign in a bid to shift foreign environments to its favor.
“For Russia, the benefits of ‘covert political financing’ are two-fold: to develop influence over benefiting-individuals and parties, and to increase the likelihood that those parties perform well in elections,” it said.
“The hidden relationships between these parties and their Russian benefactors undermine the integrity of, and public faith in, democratic institutions,” it said.
Russian officials have long scoffed at US allegations of meddling, noting that the CIA has a long history of backing coups in nations such as Iran and Chile.
Putin was said to be infuriated in 2011 when the United States voiced moral support to protesters around Russia who alleged election rigging.
The US official rejected any comparison between Russia’s alleged efforts to contemporary US practices such as funding election monitors and non-governmental pro-democracy groups.
US assistance is transparent and “we do not support a particular party or particular candidate,” the official said.
“It is about democratic governance and trying to help our other democracies strengthen democratic governance.”