Estonian intelligence claims to have detected a network of politicians, journalists, diplomats, business people who are, in fact, Russian influence agents and who are doing what they are ordered to. Voanews quoted Mikk Marran, the director general of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service on July 20th.
He claims that the Estonian intelligence can clearly see they are pushing Russia’s agenda. His announcement happened at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, Colorado.
Furthermore, Marran claims that politicians that have been in the margins until a few years ago are now in national parliaments or national governments. He claims that the Russians have allegedly provided the mentioned people with media and political support.
What is noteworthy is that Marran has refused to name any politicians, diplomats or journalists suspected furthering Moscow’s agenda. This is, however, not the first time Estonia has warned of Russia’s cultivation of “influence agents” in Western Europe, however this comes at a time when there are growing concerns of such influence operations have taken root in the US.
Earlier this year, in February, Postimees posted an article warning that Russia is looking for influence agents in Estonia. They also quote Mikk Marran, who claims that Russia requires agents to influence decision-making in Europe. He highlighted that they are targeting young European politicians and foreigners travelling to Russia. The allegedly state-funded “agents of influence program,” as reported by Postimees also targets European businessmen, scientists, opinion leaders and journalists.
According to Postimees agents of influence are usually recruited on Russian soil, usually following an invitation from a local politician or businessman with ties to the Kremlin.
Marran, both now and in February has refused to provide any names or evidence or supporting facts of his claims.
It is interesting the July 20th announcement comes only a week after the Trump-Putin Helsinki meeting on July 16th. At the press conference after it, Donald Trump expressed his doubt in the US intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.
July 13th’s indictment of 12 alleged Russian intelligence officials by US Special prosecutor Robert Mueller, as well as the continuing US investigation into Russiagate has only strengthened media focus and hysteria around the alleged Russian meddling. It further gives steam to the newly arisen narrative of Trump being a Russian agent, which originated after the his strongly scrutinized conduct at the Helsinki meeting and, mostly, at the Press Conference that followed. Mueller, who was appointed to investigate the Russian involvement in the 2016 elections, as well as possible collusions of members of the Trump campaign indicted the alleged intelligence officials for of hacking the computer networks belonging to the Democratic party. He has also previously indicted Trump campaign staffers, including chairman Paul Manafort and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Paul Manafort, together with Rick Gates was indicted on February 22nd, 2018 on a combined 32 counts, including tax, financial and bank fraud crimes among other things. The 32 counts are in addition to the 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, financial and false statement charges of October 2017. Michael Flynn in December 2017 pleaded guilty for making false statements to the FBI.
Mueller’s probe, according to Voanews quoting Mikk Maran has brought greater awareness of it in the West. Despite that awareness, the Director general of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service claims that his country’s Intelligence officers assert that Moscow has not weakened its efforts.
Voanews also reports that it is worrying that Russian meddling has reached the US in even larger scale than anticipated. Voanews mentions rumors that members of Congress could also be under Russian influence, which is reinforced by Bill Browder, on July 19th. He is the chief executive officer at Hermitage Capital and is the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, which allows Washington to withhold visas and freeze financial assets of Russian officials thought to be corrupt or human rights abusers, as Voanews reports.