15:14 Oct. 13, 2016
"In certain countries, Russian influence has become so pervasive and endemic that it has challenged national stability as well as a country's Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic stability," report says
Russia has mounted a campaign of covert economic and political measures to manipulate five countries in central and eastern Europe, discredit the West's liberal democratic model, and undermine trans-Atlantic ties, a report by a private U.S. research group said.
The report released on Thursday said Moscow had co-opted sympathetic politicians, strived to dominate energy markets and other economic sectors, and undermined anti-corruption measures in an attempt to gain sway over governments in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Serbia, and Slovakia.
"In certain countries, Russian influence has become so pervasive and endemic that it has challenged national stability as well as a country's Western orientation and Euro-Atlantic stability," said the report of a 16-month study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Sofia, Bulgaria-based Center for the Study of Democracy.
The publication of "The Kremlin Playbook: Understanding Russian Influence in Eastern and Central Europe" coincides with an unprecedented debate in the United States over whether Russia is attempting to interfere in the Nov. 8 presidential election with cyber attacks and the release of emails from the campaign of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
A former U.S. State Department official is the report's lead author and U.S. officials said they concur with the findings on Russia's involvement in Eastern Europe.
"The Russians have been engaged in a sustained campaign to recapture what Putin considers their rightful buffer in Eastern Europe, and to undermine not just NATO and the EU, but the entire democratic foundation of both institutions," said a U.S. official who has studied Russian behavior since before the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991.
The official requested anonymity because, he said, the White House has ordered officials not to publicly discuss hostile Russian activities.
Those activities, he said, include bribery, propaganda, disinformation, "the occasional" assassination of Kremlin critics at home or abroad, and now using the internet to undermine opponents and weaken Western institutions.