These days the internet is being used as a weapon of international war. Even as we bid adieu to French President Francois Hollande last week amidst closely observed elections in France, the Kremlin electoral effect is silently spreading across the world. Many agencies and organizations have accused the Putin-led Kremlin of electoral interference in their national elections. The US Presidential elections last year saw speculation being raised that the Russian Government had favored and helped the Trump campaign. The past week saw the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign being a target of a ‘massive’ computer hack that dumped its campaign emails online 1-1/2 days before voters choose between the centrist and his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen.
Amidst the global outcry of interference in elections which, until recently, was largely seen as being neutral, security specialists from 27 countries including Great Britain and America are gearing up for a summit in Prague. This meeting is being seen as a stepping stone for countering hostile foreign electoral interference.
The five day summit is being held by STRATCOM- the strategic communications department of NATO. Its aim is to appraise the European Union and other Governments to enumerate the tools that are available for hostile electoral interference and how they can be countered.
Elections are a keystone for every democracy. The foundation principle of elections are that it be free and fair for the candidates to have a level playing field. The issues at stake here are enormous as Russian interference in national elections could undermine democratic systems. Even the sovereignty of a nation will be endangered by outside interference of any sort. In other words, one cannot be a sovereign country if a hostile foreign government influences the process of how leaders are chosen.
While elections are coming up in several European countries including Britain in June, Germany in September and Czech Republic in October, there are increasing fears about Russian interference. Electoral interference to support the candidate that the Kremlin favors is being treated as a vital internal security issue.
Apart from establishing agencies that tackle the interference head on, many of the conference organizers are mulling legislation as a possible solution and a national defense system that keeps foreign influences at bay. Some of the reports to be presented in the conference will assert that Moscow tried to influence the Brexit vote in the UK referendum last year.
It is interesting that the Kremlin has mainly backed far-right candidates opposed to NATO, the EU and immigration across countries. Most of the destabilization efforts are being done through news websites that supply a steady stream of misinformation, thereby supporting one candidate against another. The other ways interference occurs is through attacking a non preferred candidate by online blackmail or intimidation or by leaking sensitive files. The Kremlin has also resorted to support a preferred candidate by giving financial benefits, intelligence support form abroad, and media support.
The summit is expected to have high level delegates from the Pentagon and the US Department of State as attendees. It is widely expected that they will now treat electoral process as a national security issue even as the ongoing FBI investigation over the alleged interference in US Presidential elections continue.
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