The Authoritarian Interference Tracker exposes the Russian government’s foreign interference activities in more than 40 transatlantic countries from 2000 to the present across the five tools ASD tracks. These tools are: information operations, cyberattacks, political and social subversion, strategic economic coercion, and malign finance. The Tracker shines a light on the tactics and trends that define the Russian government’s interference efforts in democracies, and highlights the interconnectivity between different parts of the asymmetric toolkit. Forthcoming iterations of the Tracker will expand to catalog authoritarian interference by other regimes that adopt similar tactics to undermine democracies.
The Authoritarian Interference Tracker is a living project leveraged from the open source community. Please send incidents for inclusion in the Tracker to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ASD divides the data presented in the Tracker according to five interconnected asymmetric tools – information operations, cyberattacks, subversion of political parties and advocacy groups, strategic economic coercion, and malign finance. Many of the data entries are cross-tagged with multiple tools, highlighting how the Russian government uses various tactics simultaneously to undermine and destabilize democracies.
ASD culled all of the data included in this project from open source reporting in eight languages. Due to the often covert nature of authoritarian interference activities, identifying clear and direct attribution is difficult, and the data in the Tracker only includes incidents where there has been credible public attribution to Russian-linked entities.
In-country experts helped curate this data to ensure the Tracker captures the Russian government’s major campaigns in target countries, and ASD will continue to consult with them on new incidents of Russian interference as they happen in real time.
Information Operations: The coordinated use of social or traditional media to achieve a strategic objective, including the insertion or amplification of false, misleading, or divisive narratives in order to manipulate public debate.
Information Operations are included if they:
- Are perpetrated via the Internet Research Agency (IRA), GRU, other Russian intelligence agencies, Russian state-run media organizations, or Russian government-connected social media accounts;
- Involve the opening of Russian government-controlled media holdings aimed at propagating narratives sympathetic to Moscow’s positions in the host country.
- NOTE: This project does not seek to catalog every Russian information operation conducted in specific countries. Rather, the entries gathered for this Tracker provide a representative example of the outlets, narratives, and target issues that characterize the Russian government’s information operations in transatlantic democracies.
Cyberattacks: The probing and penetration of computer networks to cripple critical infrastructure; disrupt the work of public and private sector actors; and, steal or alter data to inflict damage upon or cause confusion within a government, corporation, society, or amongst critics.
Cyberattacks are included if they:
- Are public knowledge and attributable;
- Steal information and weaponize it by releasing it to the public;
- Access or take offline critical infrastructure, including electoral infrastructure, in order to undermine confidence in government and institutions;
- Disrupt organizations that are critical to the functioning of democracy or are perceived to threaten Russian state interests.
Subversion of Political Parties and Advocacy Groups: The backing of politicians and groups, often at the extremes of the political spectrum, inside another country through financial or other covert and subversive means, designed to promote a friendly agenda toward the government providing support, or to support divisive or extremist views inside the host country.
Instances of Subversion of Political Parties and Advocacy Groups are included if they:
- Involve covert financial and other types of assistance provided by the Russian government and its aligned GONGOs and actors that support foreign interference activities;
- Support training and development of paramilitary organizations;
- Involve the opening and funding of Russian government-aligned NGOs and think tanks;
- Demonstrate the cooption of political figures who act to increase the Russian government’s leverage in target countries.
Strategic Economic Coercion: The exploitation of national resources and commercial activity as leverage over another country’s government to weaken it and force a change in policy.
Instances of Strategic Economic Coercion are included if they:
- Involve Russian state-controlled or state-linked companies concluding non-transparent agreements or agreements below market value that increase the Russian government’s leverage over target countries;
- Disrupt energy shipments to achieve political ends or impede the development of alternative energy sources to maintain Russian energy dominance;
- Can be linked to political events for which Russian state-controlled or state-linked companies exact revenge against a target country.
Malign Finance: The facilitation of financial activity involving illicit proceeds or in furtherance of other illicit ends, often including political, economic, disinformation, or cyber interference.
Instances of Malign Finance are included if they:
- Involve banks or individuals that have been officially charged or found to be complicit in Russian money laundering schemes;
- Provide funding of foreign interference campaigns;
- Involve covert financial support to political parties or organizations aligned with the Russian government.
- NOTE: This project does not seek to catalog every allegation of corruption in specific countries. Rather, the entries gathered for this Tracker provide a representative sample of the methods used by the Russian government and its proxies to fund interference in transatlantic democracies.
ASD culled the data included in this project from open source research in eight languages. Due to the often-covert nature of authoritarian interference activities, identifying clear and direct attribution is difficult, and the data in the Tracker only includes incidents where there has been credible public attribution to Russian-linked entities. We are grateful for the journalists, researchers, and government officials who have done important work in exposing the actors behind these efforts. Their research, in many cases on the front lines of these interference operations, provides a critical basis for understanding them.
We are also indebted to the innumerable experts whom we consulted for input on this project, drawing on their experience in government, academia, and the private sector. We also acknowledge the vast contributions to the literature these experts have made, and on whose reports and commentary we have relied; we list several of these influential reports below:
Atlantic Council: The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses series
Center for European Policy Analysis and the Legatum Institute: Winning the Information War
Center for Strategic and International Studies: The Kremlin Playbook
Political Capital: From Russia with Hate
U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations minority staff report: Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and Europe
Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies: The Bear in Sheep’s Clothing
Finally, ASD thanks our many interns, who, over the course of the past 18 months, spent countless hours curating and refining the data for the Tracker.