Anne Applebaum writes: The former national security adviser wants to testify under immunity. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sneaks off to the White House for illicit briefings. Every day brings a new revelation in Washington, and every day reveals the story of someone else’s conversation with someone else from Russia.
But if this seems momentous or ludicrous, bizarre or improbable, it shouldn’t. Take a step back and look around the world: Russian interference in democratic elections is neither new nor unusual. On the contrary, it’s ubiquitous, it plays a role in just about every Western democracy, it often follows the same patterns as it did in the United States, and it often leads to the same disarray.
True, in some places it includes funding, of which there is no evidence in the United States. One of France’s presidential candidates, Marine Le Pen of the “far right” National Front, was in Moscow last week as her party is openly seeking Russian financial support. In 2014, her party received a 9 million euro loan from a Russian-Czech bank, and in 2016, it was revealed this week, she received an additional 3 million euros from another Russian bank; a political fund run by her father, the former party chairman, also received 2 million euros from a Russian-backed fund based in Cyprus. Le Pen’s agenda — anti-NATO, anti-European Union — is perfectly aligned with that of Moscow, which seeks to destroy the European and transatlantic institutions that curb Russian influence. That support hasn’t damaged her standing with her voters: At a major Le Pen rally in Lille, France, a few days ago, Putin’s name was cheered.
Sometimes, Russian interference is more covert, involving training and support for far-right and extremist groups. A Hungarian neo-Nazi who authorities say murdered a police officer late last year had illegal military-grade weapons and ties to Russian operatives. Scandinavian far-right groups also have links to strange Russian “nationalist” groups that sometimes lend them money or help them train.
But most of the time, Russian interference in foreign elections takes the same forms that it did in the United States. [Continue reading…]