U.S. intelligence: Russia hopes to oust Poroshenko, bring pro-Russian parliament to power
A large-scale report from the U.S. intelligence community was presented by Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on January 29, according to the Ukrainian service of the Voice of America.
It notes that in the section of the report "Russia and Its Neighbors," the U.S. intelligence service says that Russia is taking steps to influence a presidential election in March 2019 and legislative elections in the fall.
"Russia is taking steps to influence these elections, applying a range of tools to exert influence and exploit Kyiv's fragile economy, widespread corruption, cyber vulnerabilities, and public discontent in hopes of ousting Poroshenko and bringing to power a less anti-Russia parliament," according to the report.
There is no clear frontrunner in the election race, the report says.
"The large field of presidential candidates, high levels of distrust in political elites, and lack of a clear frontrunner may provide Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's rivals, as well as lesser
known candidates and political newcomers, an opportunity to appeal to the largely undecided Ukrainian electorate," the document notes.
Russia's large-scale attack against Ukraine is considered to be "operationally feasible but unlikely."
"We assess that a major offensive by either Ukraine or Russian proxy forces is operationally feasible but unlikely in 2019, unless one side perceives the other is seriously challenging the status quo," Coats said.
In addition, the U.S. intelligence agency anticipates increased tension in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
"Bilateral tensions will continue to rise in the Black and Azov Seas as each side asserts its sovereignty and naval capabilities," the report said.
The document states that Russia will continue its military, political, and economic destabilization campaign against Ukraine to try to stymie Kyiv's efforts to integrate with the EU and strengthen ties to NATO.
"Russia's interception of Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait and detention of the ships' sailors in November 2018 demonstrates Russia's willingness to limit Ukrainian freedom of navigation in the area and exert political pressure on the country’s leadership, particularly in advance of Ukraine's elections this year," the report reads.
"The Kremlin will seek to maintain and, where possible, expand its influence throughout the former Soviet Union countries, which it asserts are within its sphere of influence," the report says.
Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine Yehor Bozhko said earlier in an interview with Ukrinform that the Kremlin had ordered the allocation of an additional $350 million to its special services this year for interference in Ukraine's elections.
According to Ukrainian intelligence, this money will be spent "on everything - the payment of fake news and bribery, the organization of provocations, protests, domestic political pressure on the leadership of the state, plotting cyberattacks... The task facing all the special services of the Russian Federation is 'anyone, but not Poroshenko'."
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