Features of Russia’s approaches to affecting the course and results of Ukraine elections

Russia’s main action plan on Ukraine in the short and medium term envisages further provoking extensive destabilization to facilitate the revenge of pro-Russian forces following the 2019 election. This will include systemic and versatile measures for influencing the course of the election process and the vote count during the presidential and parliamentary elections.

In this context, these are the main areas where Russia is most likely to intensify its efforts:

– Destabilization in the Ukraine-controlled territory, as well as on the line of demarcation with the temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, incitement of military-political confrontation with elements of economic influence;

– Propaganda campaigns in the Ukrainian media and using instruments for cyber interference;

– Measures to provide electoral support to individual candidates (“working” with Ukrainian citizens living in temporarily occupied territories, using civil society organizations as  front, financing of a wide range of radical political forces – both anti-Ukrainian and ultranationalist); and

– Discrediting the electoral process and the incumbent Ukrainian authorities in the international media space and through Kremlin’s positions in international organizations, as well as Western political and expert circles.

Election meddling across Ukraine

The key to achieving the Kremlin’s goal of revenge of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine is to continue in the short term measures to destabilize the socio-political situation and sow chaos across the Ukrainian territory.

Russia expects to intensify its efforts in the following areas:

1. Implementation of information and propaganda campaigns in the Ukrainian media space

The main focus is on clogging the information space to distract the general public from really important issues, as well as the predominance of the black PR in the media space to increase anti-rating of individual politicians.

As a result of the monitoring of the socio-political and socio-economic situation in Ukraine in November-December 2018, the Russian Federation came to the conclusion that it is necessary to carry out outreach campaigns in the following directions:

– “Disclosure” of corruption and “shadow” schemes which are of the biggest concern to ordinary Ukrainians, as well as the issues of reforming health care and education systems; and

– Ensuring “correct” voting of Ukrainian labor migrants working in Belarus and Kazakhstan, where “political apathy” prevails.

2. Employing an extensive network of resources

The following resources will be used for implementing anti-government information and propaganda measures:

  • Media potential.

In addition to the possibility of information spins through Russian-funded media, the Kremlin tactics foresee the use of mostly false flag so-called journalistic “network marketing” – distribution of paid-for material by media (in particular, reports criticizing the authorities). This also provides for the blocking of state-owned and private Ukrainian online outlets during the presidential and parliamentary elections, in particular with the further establishment of control over local mass media.

– Intensification of efforts in social networks (bots, trolls).

The main efforts will be made through influencing the electoral preferences of target groups (by age, gender, geographical position, social status, etc.).

– Sensitivity of nationalist right-wing and left-wing radical groups throughout the country to calls “to declare themselves by the use force”.

The purpose of provoking these groups to “force response” is the destabilization in society, the spread of acts of violence and fear among the population, panic and distrust of the current authorities. As a result, these actions should result in a loss of confidence in the election process and election results that will directly affect voter turnout, especially in the regions where democratic political forces traditionally dominate.

– Distribution of fake data of exit polls during the presidential race.

Russia plans to exploit false polls data at polling stations during voting, which will be made public on the evening of March 31, to spread chaos in the electoral process and create grounds for the Kremlin to claim alleged illegitimacy of presidential elections.

– Using organizations of ethnic Ukrainians in Russian regions bordering Ukraine in measures to influence the public opinion in the adjacent regions;

– Involvement of representatives and supporters of the former Moscow Patriarchate.

Russia will use a religious factor to destabilize Ukraine, in particular, through provocations during the celebration of the Palm Week (April 21-28) related to Russia’s failure to recognize the outcome of the presidential election in our country.

To this end, the Russian side will organize a pilgrimage of Russian Orthodox believers to Kyiv shrines. At the same time, under the guise of pilgrims, they plan to deploy in Ukraine, intelligence operatives and “Orthodox” fighters trained to take part in riots.

3. Impact on the results of voting

The possibility is being worked out of applying in the temporarily occupied Crimea illegal schemes for the purchase and export to mainland Ukraine of Ukrainian IDs issued before March 2014.

There is a steady tendency seen to an increased inflow of people crossing the line of demarcation toward Ukraine to participate in the presidential elections in Ukraine. The official purpose of the visit of the majority of citizens is “visiting relatives.” Their actual purpose though is to register at polling stations and vote.

4. Incitement of military-political confrontation with elements of economic influence

Analysts at the Russian Presidential Administration, the Security Council, the Ministry of Defense, and the FSB consider it expedient for the Russian side in the period until the end of March to adhere to the tactics of instigating a confrontation between the candidates for the post of President of Ukraine, which, according to their calculations, will help reduce the level of support of the Ukrainian authorities by the international community.

The amassing of the strike grouping of the Russian Armed Forces along the Ukrainian-Russian border, conducting exercises and maneuvers, as well as the implementation of fire provocations from the occupied territories of Ukraine, is an element of military-political pressure on the Ukrainian leadership.

Interference in elections from positions of the territories of Ukraine temporarily occupied by Russia

In the context of its efforts to interfere in the electoral process in Ukraine, Russia uses the resource of the so-called “DPR/LPR” to carry out a series of provocations to disrupt and discredit the elections. The Kremlin plan also foresees the use of the factor of self-proclaimed quasi-formations as an important tool for discrediting the incumbent president of Ukraine and his team during the elections by producing allegations against the Ukrainian authorities in the “genocide of Donbas”, destruction of critical infrastructure in the region, etc.

Special services of the Russian Federation are preparing a series of provocations directly at polling stations in the eastern regions of Ukraine, bordered by the territories temporarily occupied by Russia in Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Among the options is, in particular, staging refusals to vote for internally displaced persons. Provocateurs are being trained from among Ukrainian citizens who are temporarily residing in the territories of occupied by Russia and have been recruited by the intelligence of the so-called “LPR MDB”. Their task will be to stage provocative situations at polling stations that will be covered in the media, aimed at creating an impression of falsification, illusion of opacity of elections and their illegitimacy, in particular in terms of violations of the rights of IDPs.

Also, Russian special services have stepped up their work on the use of passport data of deceased persons or persons who went missing in the occupied territories of Donbas in 2014-2018, whose status is impossible to officially confirm or deny. For agreeing to vote with the use of fake passports, special services of “DPR/LPR” offer local residents monetary rewards and grocery kits.

Another direction is the implementation of provocations on the line of demarcation, intensified efforts of the network of human assets in the territories controlled by Ukraine, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

By conducting provocations that, in particular, will lead to the death of military personnel, Russian-terrorist forces plan to destabilize the situation on the line of demarcation with the temporarily occupied territories.

Cyber ​​interference

The scenario of Russian cyber-interference to influence the results of the presidential election and the overall situation in our country after the announcement of these results includes:

– inserting malware and monitoring vulnerabilities in the critical infrastructure cyber defense system;

– Provocations connected with unauthorized interference in computers of opposition political forces with the further “leaks”; and

– Massive DDoS attacks on the servers of ministries and other government agencies aimed at distracting Ukraine’s cyber security forces and countering their efforts, and the use of pre-installed worms.

By involving professionals in the unauthorized information seizure, Russia is trying to gain access to the databases of Ukrainian political parties and personal social network accounts and emails of presidential candidates and religious figures.

The most popular method remains network penetration through phishing, that is sending out emails with infected attachments. In addition, the hacker community is actively discussing the issue of Russia developing a virus similar to “Petya” to break Ukrainian information systems, primarily those run by the government, as well as critical infrastructure, in particular regional energy distribution companies.

Also, Russia plans to launch on Election Day (March 31, 2019) unprecedented cyberattacks on CEC servers and district election commissions to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process.

These measures include:

– Infecting servers and computers of constituency administrations and polling stations with a “malware worms” capable of distorting statistics;

– Activating the sleeper malware on Election Day by attacking the affected systems with other types of viruses, aimed at preventing data transmission to the CEC and centralized online vote count. The attacks being plotted will employ malware developed by Russian intelligence services for the needs of hybrid warfare; and

– Simultaneously releasing across Ukraine large-scale exit polls and “parallel vote count” in the East and South of Ukraine, which will allegedly demonstrate deliberate understatement by the Central Election Commission of the number of votes cast for pro-Russian candidates.