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Estonian foreign intel chief on US elections influence: Russia wants aid to end

Kaupo Rosin.
Kaupo Rosin. Source: Mait Ots/ERR

Kaupo Rosin, director general of the Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet/VLA) says he cannot state directly which candidate Russia is actively attempting to influence in favor of, at November's US presidential elections. Russia is however certainly trying to raise its ability to interfere in the presidential elections in any case, Rosin added Tuesday.

Rosin made his remarks to coincide with the publication of this year's Foreign Intelligence Service yearbook, in an election year both in the US and in the EU, adding that Russia is also working to halt US aid to Ukraine.

Rosin gave an interview to ERR's radio news, which follows in its entirety.

The VLA warned ahead of the last European Parliament elections [in 2019] that Russia could interfere in the elections and try to give a boost to those who act in its interests. In retrospect, to what extent did Russia manage to accomplish this?

We see these attempts going on all the time. At the European Parliament, we have the latest public example, where what is very likely a Russian agent of influence has been operating, and over a long period of time (referring to Latvian MP Tatyana Zhdanok – ed.). Then there e are certainly more such target persons, from the Russian side, to be found across the entire European political landscape. This is constant work on the part of the Russians.

That said I haven't observed any major strategic goals. One of the goals that Russia is trying to reach, it's true, is the reduction, or elimination of, support to and for Ukraine. But I don't see any breakthrough success going on here.

However, there are some countries from among our allies where Russian-backed narratives have gained more traction. To what extent is it worth seeing the conscious influence of Russia here, and to what extent is it the inner conviction of the local people in, say, Slovakia, or Hungary?

As the head of an intelligence agency, it is very hard for me to comment on the policies of our allies. I would choose not to do that.

Given the upcoming European Parliament elections in June, has Russia's ability and opportunities to influence the election results risen or fallen?

They are always trying to find new opportunities. For our part, we and the counterintelligence services of the other Western countries are trying to curb this effect into as small an area as possible. But Russia will not stop tinkering.

Public skepticism about the messages coming from Russia has risen in much of Europe. Outline if you would the means whereby Russia still has scope left to influence election results? How many opportunities do they have to, for instance, finance politicians and campaigns they support, and how much ability do they have to shape the information space?

Without a doubt, they are trying to approach various politicians on both the far right and the far left, and to one way or another win them over to cooperation. Of course, one would need to pay a significant price to promote such a narrative. 

Partly the case is that there are enough naive people, who are predisposed to believing Russia's narrative. With these types of people, these experiments can find fertile ground. The question is whether that will be followed by a strategic effect, one which would change the big picture. So far, they haven't been overly successful here.

Russia's attempts to influence election results have been reported more since the previous US presidential elections. Is Russia extent interested in influencing the outcome of this year's US presidential election and if so to what extent? And do they have the capacity to do so? 

They are certainly trying to promote their own agenda. Capabilities have been cut recently. I am sure that the counterintelligence services of all the countries in question, all of whom are highly aware of the threats, are actively working to block the Russians from achieving their goals.

Thus far, it has been pointed out in the US the direction in which Russia has pushed its agenda at the presidential elections. Could Russia's desire as to who the next president of the US might be have changed over time? Or, is it rather the much as in the last election, and the last election but one (ie. in 2020 and 2016 – ed.).

Russia's goal here is to create a situation in America and in other countries where the will of the people and of the state to support Ukraine would somehow break up, in the short term. This is certainly an ambition of theirs. Again, whether it succeeds is another question.

Looking at the recent statements, could Russia see it as a beneficial direction for the Republican Party to succeed in the US elections? 

It would undoubtedly benefit Russia if aid to Ukraine ceased.

But what more are they capable of? Hillary Clinton's email correspondence was leaked in a relatively dirty manner. Do they still have the capacity to utilize such simple tools?

Russia is undoubtedly investing in its capabilities. Without question, a situation where a person creates vulnerabilities for themselves is a dangerous one, and Russia will undoubtedly take advantage of opportunities like that.

The VLA on Tuesday published its ninth annual yearbook report "International Security and Estonia 2024," in which it assessed external security threats affecting Estonia.

The full yearbook is available in English here.

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Editor: Mait Ots, Andrew Whyte,

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