Uh-Oh: Is Russia Meddling in the French Election, Too?

| APR 23, 2017 | 8:07 PM

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Since the very first time he was accused of interfering in 2016's presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been protesting that he did nothing of the sort.

Despite Putin's claims (and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's as well) to the contrary, many Americans believe that Russian hackers at the very least supplied WikiLeaks with the internal emails that turned the Democratic National Committee inside out — and probably encouraged much of the “fake news” that Democrats blamed in part for Hillary Clinton's loss.

Putin's Russia has also raised suspicions with respect to the Brexit vote — a destabilized Europe would certainly put Moscow at an advantage on the global stage.

And with the first round of elections completed in France (National Front Party's Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron will participate in a runoff election on May 7), multiple sources have suggested that Putin left a mark there as well.

Business Insider reported:

The stakes are high for Russia. Depending on who wins, the French election could set the tone for a broader European shift toward Moscow and away from Washington. It is no surprise, then, that both the French and English-language versions of Russia's state-sponsored news agencies, including Sputnik and Russia Today (RT), have been conspicuously bolstering the Kremlin's preferred candidates.

RT featured Le Pen's statement about Thursday's terror attack in Paris at the top of its site on Friday: “Restore France's borders, expel foreign nations on watchlist — Le Pen to French govt,” the headline read. The article made no mention of the statement released by her centrist opponent, Emmanuel Macron, in the wake of Thursday's attack: “Don’t give in to fear, divisions and intimidation.”

In addition, the EU Observer cited a study that linked Russia to a staggering number of “fake news” sites that flooded French social media with links:

The survey, by a UK-based firm, Bakamo, published on Wednesday (19 April), looked at 800 websites and almost 8 million links shared between 1 November and 4 April.

Of the links, 19.2 percent related to media that did not “adhere to journalistic standards” and that expressed “radical opinions … to craft a disruptive narrative” in what the study called the “reframe” category.

A further 5 percent of links related to “narratives [that were] often mythical, almost theological in nature” or discussed “conspiracy theories” in what the study called the “alternative” section.

The sources shared in these categories favoured anti-EU candidates both on the far right and the far left: Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Melenchon, Francois Asselineau, and Philippe Poutou.

They also favoured Francois Fillon, a centre-right candidate who is friendly toward Russia.

Bakamo's research found that one in five sources in the reframe section were influenced by Russian state media known for spreading anti-EU disinformation, such as RT or Sputnik, and that one out of two sources in the alternative section had Russian roots.

“The analysis only identified foreign influence connected with Russia. No other foreign source of influence was detected,” Bakamo said.

Many of the sources supplying the “fake news,” in addition to favoring certain candidates in their coverage, also pushed stories that were critical of the European Union and current immigration policies.

And it may not end with France.

Clinton Watts, senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security (and a former FBI agent) told Reuters that the Russians may have their sights set on Germany next:

“A contingent of the Trump campaign supporters we believe to be 'bots' and accounts from Russia have shifted to Germany. If I had to estimate, about one-third of previous Trump supporter accounts are now trying to influence the German election.”

The effort there appears to be the same — to push Germany in a more nationalist direction, further destabilizing the EU.