BY NOW it should be clear that the new normal of Russian conduct on the international stage includes tampering with elections in Western democracies to boost candidates the Kremlin believes likely to do its bidding and to harass those who won’t. Having done exactly that in the 2016 U.S. elections, President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence agencies are now directing their subterfuge at Europe, including the continent’s foremost economic powers: Germany and France.
The immediate targets of Russian cyber-meddling are Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner in the second and final round of France’s presidential election, set for May 7, and think tanks associated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose governing coalition faces elections this fall. Like Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was similarly in the Kremlin’s crosshairs, neither Mr. Macron nor Ms. Merkel has been shy about condemning Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine. They have backed economic sanctions against Russia that have infuriated Mr. Putin.
The result has been a relentless series of cyberattacks originating in Moscow, in all probability directed by Russian military intelligence. In addition to Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel, hacking targets have included the Foreign and Defense ministries of Denmark, a stalwart of the European Union and NATO. “This is part of a continuing war from the Russian side in this field,” said Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen, “and it’s an eternal struggle to keep them away.”
Amid the flurry of reports about Russian-directed fake news, phishing, phony websites and other stratagems deployed by Mr. Putin’s cyberwarriors, it’s important to stay focused on the central outrage — namely, that the Kremlin, having succeeded in corrupting America’s politics last year, is now intent on hijacking elections, democracy’s most basic feature, in other key Western nations. That’s why congressional Republicans leading investigations into the 2016 elections must do their jobs; Russian interference is an attack on core American values, not a partisan issue.
In February, the Macron campaign said it had detected more than 2,000 attempts to hack its campaign — most thought to have originated in Russia — including cyber-assaults that crashed its website and a barrage of efforts to gain access to the email accounts of campaign officials, perhaps in an attempt to collect compromising information that could then be used as leverage, a favorite Kremlin tactic, or for embarrassment.
Moscow’s tactics are designed to favor its preferred candidate in the May 7 runoff: Marine Le Pen, a right-wing nationalist who has taken loans from Russian banks, opposed sanctions against Moscow and heaped scorn on the E.U. Her policies would weaken Europe and drive a wedge among Western democracies — precisely the return on investment Mr. Putin is hoping for from his meddling.
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