The West’s learning curve on Russian election meddling

After seeing Russian attempts to influence the US and French vote, Germany has learned to firmly protect the integrity of its democracy before a Sept. 24 vote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, July 7.

German security officials are scratching their heads. They have yet to see a serious attempt by Russia to meddle in the country’s Sept. 24 election. What’s changed, they ask, since the recent American and French elections when Russia was accused of disseminating fake news, leaking negative information, or trying to tamper with election machinery?

One change may be that Russia now knows that voters in the West have wised up to its tactics and more firmly embrace the essentials of democracy, such as the need to discern the truth in political campaigns and to safeguard the integrity of the voting process. News media in Germany as well as global social media giants are on guard to challenge false information and hate speech. Election officials are tightening up their computer systems. And counterintelligence agencies are better equipped to detect the origins of any threat to the German election.

Rather than simply fearing foreign meddling, Western countries are providing a protective shield for the basic freedoms and necessary mechanics of their democracies. Germany has learned much from the 2016 election in the United States and the French election last spring. But it also experienced Russian hacking of Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, in a 2015 cyberattack. Another attack was attempted in 2016 on the country’s two leading parties. And officials are alert to right-wing hate groups in Germany that seem to mimic Russian propaganda.

It helps that the parliamentary elections in Germany are less divisive than the presidential elections in France and the US. And polls show Angela Merkel easily winning another term as chancellor. Perhaps Russia sees any meddling as pointless. It might even backfire and harm its diplomatic goals in the rest of the world.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also learned that Germany will stand up to his attempts to challenge the West, such as in Ukraine. With the US reducing its role in the world and Britain splitting from the European Union, Germany has slowly taken on the mantle of a global leader, especially on issues such as climate change and refugees. Ms. Merkel has called on Germans to be a “force for freedom.”

Her immediate task, however, is to ensure Germans enjoy a free and fair election. After what they’ve seen in the US and France, they are more demanding in protecting their democracy.

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