U.S. warns that Russia will step up covert political influence to undermine sanctions

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO - The national flag of Russia flies atop the Russian embassy as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues in Berlin

By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States expects that Russia will increasingly turn to covert political financing in the coming months to undermine international sanctions over the war in Ukraine and maintain Moscow's influence abroad, a senior Biden administration official said on Tuesday, citing declassified U.S. intelligence.

The official briefed reporters by phone on a review by the U.S. intelligence community of Russia's efforts to influence other countries' politics. It found Russia has transferred more than $300 million to foreign political parties, officials and politicians in more than two dozen countries since 2014, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the efforts, including funding for think tanks to support far-right nationalist political parties, were "an attempt to manipulate democracies from the inside."

"We think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we are engaging with allies and partners to gather more information about this threat," the official said.

The official did not detail which countries the Russian influence efforts targeted or provide specific evidence to lay out the claims of secret financing.

Russia's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Washington was declassifying some information from the review in part because of an expectation that Russia would "increasingly rely on its covert influence toolkit" in coming months, they said.

President Joe Biden's administration has similarly declassified intelligence findings since Russia began building up its forces on Ukraine's borders ahead of its Feb. 24 invasion.

Classified information was also being shared with countries to help them push back on Moscow's influence, they said.

"We're putting these foreign parties and candidates on notice that if they accept Russian money secretly, we can and we will expose it," the official said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra PamukEditing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)