· The French and the German elections clearly proved two things about Russian efforts to meddle in foreign elections. First, there were obvious attempts at interference in both cases. Second, these efforts can easily be repulsed if there is a political will to do so.
· The main difference between the Kremlin’s opportunities to meddle with elections in the West and the East is the regionally distinct modus operandi of Russian influence. While the West proved to be a breeding ground for state of the art information warfare utilizing “bots,” the East has a multitude of local mainstream political, economic and disinformation actors in the pockets of the Kremlin.
· The stakes are high considering the fact that Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria are in the vicinity of Ukraine, and they have an important role in the region’s and Ukraine’s stability. The three countries under review demonstrate different levels of vulnerability when it comes to Russia’s global and local strategy: Hungary being the most, while the Czech Republic the least susceptible to Russian influence.
· The Kremlin has strategic goals in each country’s election in order to turn the tide in Europe and successfully create an Eastern Bloc of “Putinverstehers” in the midst of the European Union causing an even greater rift in Trans-Atlantic relations:
– Sustain the political “status quo” in Hungary represented by the PM Viktor Orbán-led government after 2018 by supporting the Hungarian government’s anti-NGO, anti-opposition, anti-Brussels and anti-migration agenda via official and unofficial Kremlin mouthpieces;
– Stop the Czech governmental efforts to repulse Russian influence and support pro-Putin political players such as current Czech President Milos Zeman by directly attacking his main challengers, Jiri Drahos and Michal Horacek;
– Propel the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, one of the most pro-Kremlin forces on the European far-right, into a government position by aligning Austrian and German pro-Russian political players, NGO-s and media, and amplify voices aimed to abolish the sanctions regime.
· The deterioration of American – Russian, as well as American – European relations further encourage and stimulate Russian presence in the “power vacuum” left by the United States, and possibly help turn the tide in Russia’s favour at least in Europe.
Lorant Gyori , Peter Kreko, Jakub Janda, Bernhard Weidinger
The full paper can be downloaded here.