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Intelligence report: Russia preparing to meddle in EU vote

By
Clyde Hughes
The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is stepping up efforts to meddle in Western elections, including those of European Parliament in May, a new intelligence report said. Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/EPA-EFE
The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin is stepping up efforts to meddle in Western elections, including those of European Parliament in May, a new intelligence report said. Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/EPA-EFE

March 12 (UPI) -- Russian government will try to meddle in the coming European Parliament elections and influence Western institutions like NATO, a new intelligence report said Tuesday.

The foreign intelligence service of Estonia, a country of Northern Europe that regained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, issued the report. It focuses on Russia's cyberattack capability and details how the Kremlin has launched attacks on Estonia to gain access to its European neighbors and NATO allies.

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The document said Moscow will likely try to influence European Parliament elections involving France, Germany and Italy, as those nations elect EP representatives to longer five-year terms. The elections begin May 23 and run through May 26.

The report also notes past Russian efforts to disrupt elections in the West, like the 2016 U.S. vote.

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"Russia's previous interference in Western elections has shown that it acts on the principle of 'the end justifies the means,'" the 70-page report states. "Russia supports its allies through Russian-controlled media, organizes high-level meetings and visits that attract media attention, offers covert financial assistance if necessary, discredits opponents (by stealing and leaking internal information), intentionally spreads false information in social media, and so on."

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The analysis mentioned the threat of cyber espionage group APT28, which is also known as Stronium and Fancy Bear. Microsoft mentioned the group last month in a threat assessment.

Strontium and another group are both believed to be connected to Russian intelligence, were blamed for swiping thousands of private emails from the Democratic National Committee and other prominent Democrats in 2016 and passing them on to WikiLeaks, which published them through the 2016 presidential election campaign.

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Snake APT is another group tied to the Russian security agency FSB.

"Both the FSB and other internet control [the] line between state-supported attacks and activities of online activists and cybercriminals," the report said. "The special services, trolls, and patriotic hackers all target Russia's oppositional news outlets, bloggers, politicians and journalists.

"Cases have been publicized where the Russian special services have tried to access the mailboxes of such groups through phishing or watering hole attacks, and then leak compromising information to obstruct their activity and undermine credibility."

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The report says President Vladimir Putin's government has also been preparing militarily for a possible conflict with NATO.

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