Russia will try to meddle in 2020 U.S. election, intelligence report says

Russia wants to help pro-Russia candidates, the report says, but it also meddles because it wants to show that Western nations can't hold fair elections.
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The Kremlin complex and the Bolshoy Kamenny bridge crossing the Moskva River in Moscow.Mladen Antonov / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Courtney Kube

WASHINGTON — Russia interfered in Western elections in 2019 and is likely to do so again in 2020, according to the latest annual threat assessment by the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service.

NBC News obtained an exclusive preview of the annual report from the Baltic nation's intelligence agency, which warns that Russia will continue to pursue cyber operations that threaten other nations.

"Russia's cyber operations have been successful and, to date, have not been sanctioned enough by the West to force Russia to abandon them," the report says.

Russia will try to interfere in the U.S. presidential election in November and in parliamentary elections in the nation of Georgia in October, it warns, saying, "The main goal is to ensure a more beneficial election result for Russia by favoring Russian-friendly candidates or those who have the most divisive influence in the West."

Another motivation, according to the report, is to show that Western nations cannot hold fair elections, thereby making questionable elections in Russia seem less significant.

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The report also warns that Russia continues to strengthen its military posture against Europe and NATO. According to the report, in 2019, Russia established three army commands, five new division headquarters and 15 new mechanized regiments in the Russian Western Military District, which borders five NATO nations, as well as Finland and Ukraine. Russia has slowly built up its military power against Europe for the past decade.

Russia's influence in the Middle East has been growing since it became involved in the war in Syria in 2015, but the report finds that Russia's influence in the region "has essentially reached a ceiling" unless it invests significantly more military or economic resources. That is "unlikely in the short term," the report says.