How Vladimir Putin is 'targeting American audiences' to cripple support for Ukraine as war slogs on: report
Russian President Vladimir Putin's ill-begotten "special military operation" in Ukraine will enter its fifth month on Friday despite initial predictions that Moscow would quickly trounce its democratic neighbor. Thanks to arms support from the West, Ukraine has held on while casualties on both sides, which are already in the tens of thousands, continue to accumulate. Russia's relations with the West have deteriorated significantly. Heavy sanctions, as well as an embargo led by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Russia's fossil fuel exports, have forced Putin to seek alternative means of propping up his nation's petro-state economy. Outside of Russia, rumors about Putin's health and potential ouster have made their respective rounds.
For the US, the cost of supplying Ukraine with artillery and other defensive weaponry has swelled to tens of billions of dollars. Global gas prices – due in part to the bipartisan-backed boycott on Russia and compounded by oil conglomerate price gouging – have soared, jeopardizing the political near-future of the Democratic Party in the 2022 midterm elections and by extension, potentially, President Joe Biden's chances for winning a second term in 2024. Additionally, worldwide food stocks have taken a major hit because Russia and Ukraine provide a vast percentage of the planet's grain.
With no end to the war in Ukraine on the immediate horizon, avoiding a direct clash between the atomic superpowers remains a high priority. According to The Daily Beast, Putin has a sinister plan to chip away at American sympathies for Ukraine. Late Tuesday night, the outlet exclusively obtained an intelligence community document laying out how Putin intends to accomplish this.
"The May intelligence bulletin from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security says the Kremlin’s influence arm has focused Russian influence operations that are targeting American audiences almost entirely on the war in Ukraine," wrote the Beast. "Russian state media and proxy information operations are working to paint Western support for Ukraine as the reason the war is dragging on so long, and the reason there is a growing food crisis. Never mind the fact the conflict and grain export problems exist because Putin chose to invade Ukraine in the first place."
The missive explains "that the Russian government remains one of the primary threats to the United States due to its 'malicious cyber operations against federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, election organizations,' and more," the Beast learned, noting that, crucially, "the Russian influence shops have also particularly been zeroing in on the idea that Western security assistance to Ukraine has been escalating the war."
For example, former Assistant Secretary at the Department of Homeland Security Brian Harrell predicted to the Beast that “as health-related rumors swirl surrounding Putin, I suspect we will see an uptick in propaganda and even counter-messages from loyalists."
Harrell added that Putin's primary strategy aims are "to stave off defeat in Ukraine and therefore stave off an ouster, too."
Harrell, and ex-Central Intelligence Agency Moscow Chief Daniel Hoffman, believe that approach would include enhanced interference operations in American elections.
Putin is "going to try really, really hard to… exacerbate those isolationist tendencies and kind of induce us to question, ‘Why are we supporting Ukraine?’ He’s trying to dilute U.S. support for [Ukrainian President] Zelenskyy," Hoffman told the Beast.
Putin's mind, Hoffman continued, stews along the lines of, "'I can outlast all you people. And if I get this to 2024, I might get a Republican who doesn’t feel like Joe Biden.' They’re students of American politics. Of course he’s going to look at the midterms and he’s looking at anybody who’s… against the war in Ukraine.”
Citing another expert, Gavin Wilde, a former director for Russia, Baltic, and Caucasus affairs on the White House National Security Council, the Beast described how "Russian election interference may also include efforts to advance politicians or themes that would reverse sanctions against Russia."
Wilde foresees that at the top of Putin's disruptive agenda “there’s going to probably be, by 2024, a crystallized debate about the degree of U.S. commitment to Europe… including Ukraine. "Putin is very well aware that that debate is probably only going to become more acute.”
The intelligence memo further points out that "Russian malign influence actors likely will attempt to dissuade U.S. voters from participating in the 2022 midterm elections using similar tactics employed during the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections, such as targeting audiences with false information about voting logistics, exacerbating racial tensions, and levying attacks or praise on candidates from either political party."
Americans received a taste of its effectiveness under Donald Trump's presidency when he threatened to withhold NATO funds, tried to extort Ukraine into digging up dirt on Biden, and held secret one-on-one meetings with Putin. Similarly, numerous Republican lawmakers and right-wing media talking heads have expressed their sympathies for policies that would directly benefit Putin.
Biden, meanwhile, has been dealt the delicate hand of having to check Putin's nuclear blackmail while maintaining what remains of the post-World War Two order.
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