US Accuses Russia of Interfering in Foreign Elections

An intelligence review commissioned by the Biden administration has concluded that "Russia has secretly funneled at least $300 million to foreign political parties and candidates in more than two dozen countries since 2014 in an attempt to shape political events beyond its borders."

On September 12, the State Department shared the information with US embassies around the world in order to educate those countries on Russia’s activities, reveal Russia’s character and suggest countermeasures. Those countries must simply have laughed both at America’s hypocrisy and at America’s assumption of their own naiveté and short memories.

The first country identified as a victim of Russian meddling is Albania, the country that was the target of one of the largest early Cold War US attempts at a covert operation intended to shape political events beyond its borders by changing a government.

Despite the US intelligence review’s conclusion that Russia spent the money "as part of its covert campaign to weaken democratic systems and promote global political forces seen as aligned with Kremlin interests," those were precisely the interests being pursued by the US. US planners knew their desired government would not be a democracy, and the people they were working with were not democratic. A memorandum assessing the situation in 1952 admitted that a "military dictatorship would probably result." And that dictatorship "would enjoy the support of the United States as long as it remains friendly to the U.S. and its objectives and hostile to the Soviet government and its objectives," according to a 1949 CIA document.

The unsuccessful US covert action that was adopted was given the name BGFIEND, and it cost the US the current equivalent of over $12 million in the first year. One year earlier, the template for giving money to political parties to influence elections and shape political events was made in Italy where, after forgiving Italy’s $1 billion debt to the US, the US gave at least $1 million, and as much as $10 million according to some reports, to the parties they wanted to win.

Ecuador is also listed as a potential country that was subjected to Russian election interference. But, if true, they wasted their money because they lost to a US supported coup that removed Rafael Correa from power. The sustained US effort kicked off with a 2005 cable from the US embassy outlining action for "desirable political and economic change in Ecuador.” The next year, a cable from US Ambassador Linda Jewell worried that a Correa election would "‘derail” US hopes as the embassy expects Correa to join Chavez and other nationalist South American leaders.” That cable confessed that the US had “actively discouraged potential alliances” with Correa and worked "in concert with other Ecuadorians and groups who share our vision.” In 2010, the expected coup came.

The intelligence review’s one sided review of history is easily exposed by the facts. During the Cold War, the US engaged in twenty-three covert rollback operations and two additional overt ones designed to replace governments friendly to the Soviet Union with governments friendly to the US, according to a detailed analysis by Lindsey O’Rourke, Associate Professor of Political Science at Boston College. The US engaged in a further twenty-five covert and one overt containment operation designed to prevent a country from entering into alliance with the Soviet Union. These attempts to shape political events beyond their borders were all undertaken to contain the Soviet Union. Altogether, O’Rourke counts sixty-four US covert interventions. Other studies place the number even higher. Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European Politics at Kent University, cites a study that found that, combined, the US and the USSR intervened in 117 foreign elections during the Cold War. Eighty-one of those interventions were American.

But US interventions did not stop with the Cold War. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and an expert on Latin America, listed for me in a personal correspondence that "the US government has actively tried to destabilize or overthrow multiple governments in this hemisphere in just the 21st century, including efforts that contributed to actual military coups in Haiti (twice), Honduras, Bolivia, Venezuela, and regime change in Brazil and Paraguay; as well as other interference in Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua, and others.” And that’s just this hemisphere.

Many of those actions, including Honduras, Ecuador, Haiti (2010), Paraguay, Venezuela and Brazil all occurred while Biden was vice president: not to mention the 2014 coup that Biden famously "midwifed" in Ukraine that was the catalyst for the current nightmare. While the US accuses Russia of spending $300 million dollars on political interference, the US government funded National Endowment for Democracy funded sixty-five projects in Ukraine. In December 2013, Victoria Nuland told an audience at the Ukraine Foundation Conference that the US had invested over $5 billion in a "democratic Ukraine."

But American shock at Russia’s interference reaches its hypocritical apogee with the 1996 Russian elections in which the US massively interfered to thwart the will of the Russian people and keep Boris Yeltsin in power. The US spent more – much more – on that one election, where Russia was the victim, than they found for all of Russia’s meddling.

Russians wanted Yeltsin to lose the 1996 election; America wanted him to win. The problem was, he wasn’t going to: his approval rating had sunk to between 3% and 10%.

With direct support from the White House, American political consultants secretly assumed management of Yeltsin’s campaign. Three American political consultants were attached to Yeltsin’s official campaign headquarters and secretly ran his reelection campaign. As Time magazine broke the story, “For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign.”

Richard Dresner, one of the three American consultants, maintained a direct line to Clinton’s Chief Strategist, Dick Morris. According to reporting by Sean Guillory, in his book, Behind the Oval Office, Morris says that, with Clinton’s approval, he received weekly briefings from Dresner that he would give to Clinton. Based on those briefings, Clinton would then provide recommendations to Dresner through Morris.

According to Stephen Cohen, late Professor Emeritus of Politics at Princeton University, President Clinton’s interference in Russian politics, his “crusade” to “reform Russia,” had by now become official policy. “Funded by the US government,” Cohen reports, Americans “gave money to favored Russian politicians, instructed ministers, drafted legislation and presidential decrees, underwrote textbooks, and served at Yeltsin’s reelection headquarters in 1996.”

The US "arm-twisted," according to Russia scholar M.E. Sarotte, the International Monetary Fund to provide a $10.2 billion loan to Russia, the second-biggest loan the IMF had ever given. The New York Times reported that the loan was “expected to be helpful to President Boris N. Yeltsin in the presidential election in June.” The Times explained that the loan was “a vote of confidence” for Yeltsin who “has been lagging well behind … in opinion polls” and added that the US Treasury Secretary “welcomed the fund’s decision.”

America’s partners kicked in too. According to Putin biographer Philip Short, France "provided a secret loan of 1.5 billion US dollars" and Germany added another 3.5 billion.

Then ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering, even pressured an opposing candidate to drop out of the election to improve Yeltsin’s odds of winning.

Yeltsin won the election by 13%. There was extensive voter fraud. As a final touch to the successful US interference in the Russian election, Thomas Graham, then chief political analyst at the US embassy in Moscow, says the US was aware of the corruption and fraud but saw it as "a classic case of the ends justifying the means."

Time magazine’s cover declared: “Yanks to the rescue: The secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win”. In their own published accounts of the election interference, the three American political consultants boast that Yeltsin won because of their work. Pickering agreed. Cohen reports that the US ambassador to Russia boasted that “without our leadership … we would see a considerably different Russia today.”

Against this resume, the US intelligence review found $300 million worth of Russian meddling to shape political events beyond its borders. The nations they told must find America’s concern amusing.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.