A recently declassified US intelligence report shows a direct correlation between the current impasse in the US Congress on aid to Ukraine and Russian intelligence operations.
By Stephen Humphreys
February 1, 2024
US intelligence verifies that the Russian propaganda strategy for the 2022 midterms was to target attack messaging against the Democratic Party in a way that undermined support for Ukraine. Accordingly, US support for Ukraine, which was previously bi-partisan, is now strictly divided along party lines – with House Republicans who achieved a slim majority two years ago unilaterally blocking aid to Ukraine.
Russian military commanders, in cooperation with the Kremlin propaganda campaign, delayed withdrawal from Kherson to prevent giving Democrats a positive takeaway on Ukraine prior to the 2022 midterms, according to intelligence reported by the CIA, FBI, NSA, Homeland Security and the State Department between June and December of 2022.
Russian forces, surrounded on three sides with the Dnipro River at their back, were allowed to take heavy casualties for months after the bridges by which they were supplied were destroyed by HIMARS missles.
Russia publicly announced its withdrawal from Kherson on November 9 – the day after the November 8 election. The casualties were sustained solely for the purposes of influencing public opinion in the US, targeting Republicans to reduce support for Ukraine. The Russian narrative was enthusiastically picked up by political and media supporters of Donald Trump.
Fox News repeated a string of Kremlin talking points intended to undermine US support for the defense of Ukraine from the continued Russian invasion, going so far as to cast Ukraine as the aggressor.
As doubts swirl over future support from Ukraine’s other major ally the United States, the EU deal is a major boost for Kyiv as Russia’s war nears the start of its third year.
Among Republican politicians, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has led the way in normalizing extremist pro-Russian propaganda, making a public appearance at a pro-Putin rally and calling the defense of Ukraine a corrupt scheme. She citied a Russian propaganda outlet that was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department over alleged interference in the 2020 presidential elections as her source.
On the US Senate side, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama blames Democrats, claiming Democrats “created” the war in Ukraine – exactly parroting the Kremlin influence operation, and has gone
so far as to green-light a Russian takeover of Ukraine, opining against all contrary evidence that he sees no risk of further Russian aggression once Ukraine is subdued.
Donald Trump, who campaigned by praising Putin for invading Crimea and took up the call to end sanctions against Russia as a primary foreign policy goal, personally fed pro-Kremlin narratives, including unsupported, self-serving conspiracy theories that have their origin with Russian intelligence. One element of the first impeachment was Trump’s attempt to pressure President Zelensky into announcing an investigation into whether it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the DNC and disseminated emails embarrassing to the Clinton campaign prior to the 2016 election.
According to the National Intelligence Council, Russian intelligence specifically targeted the MAGA audience, catering to the same audience carefully conditioned to be receptive to the message. The report cites the focus before the 2022 election on asking why the US should help Ukraine instead of solving social and domestic problems?
Evidence shows, and the NIC report confirms, that Russian influence operations which began against US elections in 2016 never stopped. In 2023, Russian agents and American collaborators were indicted in the US for election interference in Florida and Georgia during the 2022 midterms. The purposes for which Russian security services fomented disinformation “included the appearance of US support for Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine,” according to the indictment in United States v. Ionov, et al.
US support for Ukraine, which was nearly unquestioned at the time of the invasion and revelation of brutal war crimes, held together until recently because some Republicans were unwilling to go along with the Fox-Trump-Putin narrative.
Polls now reflect the intended consequences of the combined Kremlin-GOP influence operation. Unity in support for Ukraine has eroded and by the end of summer 2023, polls showed a majority of Americans opposing aid to Ukraine, with a huge supermajority of Republicans defecting. Of course, this is the target audience with the most exposure to Fox News and other right wing media programming that parrots the Kremlin narratives.
This drop in support has been achieved even though Trump no longer controls the levers of US government, and can no longer appoint officials who actually tried to distort the facts to create a narrative in line with the agendas of Trump and Putin during his administration.
Slim GOP control of the House achieved in 2022, coinciding with drop in public support, resulted in interruption of US aid to Ukraine in 2023—another clear win for Russian intelligence, abetted by the Republican Party that formerly stood for national security and viewed Moscow as the principal threat to that security.
As in every election year since 2016, Ukraine will sit square in the bullseye of the Russian disinformation campaigns—in the hope that Putin can win at the US ballot box what he could not accomplish on the battlefield – in the US elections of 2024.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
Stephen Humphreys is a US attorney who has spent most of the last two years volunteering in Ukraine with war crimes investigations, Legion D, humanitarian aid groups, and the Law Enforcement Committee of the Rada, as well as teaching law and history at Taras Shevchenko University.