Northern Eurasia 2016: Russian Electoral Interventions
Facing conflict with the West over Ukraine and Syria, from 2015 Russia began covertly interfering in the Western democracies on a large scale for the first time since the Cold War. The attacks—which made extensive use of social media—were most notable before the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US. What actual impact the offensives had on electoral results is still uncertain.
7 May 2015–21 Oct 2017 Russian electoral interventions in West▲
In 2015 Russia expanded its attempts to influence foreign elections across much of the Western democratic world. Using cyberattacks, social media disinformation campaigns, leaks, and donations, it attempted to influence elections and referendums in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, the United States, Italy, France, and other countries, and allegedly supported a coup attempt in Montenegro. In most cases, the Russians did not get the outcome they wanted; in the other cases, it remains uncertain whether Russian involvement was critical. Regardless, by late 2017, Russian interventions were on the wane, in at least part due to Western sanctions and other countermeasures.
23 Jun 2016 Brexit referendum▲
After newly-elected Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom backtracked on a campaign promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty for further integration into the European Union in 2010, he provoked a storm of criticism in government. Eventually Cameron relented to pressure and agreed to hold a referendum on British membership in the EU on 23 June 2016. In a result which shocked much of the country, 51.9% voted in favor of leaving the EU, prompting Cameron to resign.
16 Oct 2016–20 Jul 2017 Battle of Mosul▲
Iraqi government and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, supported by the United States and Iran, converged on the Daesh-occupied city of Mosul from three directions. After a bitter nine-month battle which saw perhaps 20,000 military and 10,000 civilian deaths, Daesh was expelled from the city. The liberation of Mosul was a decisive victory over Daesh’s so-called Islamic State, destroying much of its power-base in northern Iraq.
6 Nov 2016–17 Oct 2017 Raqqa campaign▲
Backed by the United States, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a Syrian alliance based in Kurdish Rojava and dominated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—launched Operation Wrath of Euphrates against Daesh (the Islamic State/ISIL) in the Raqqa Governorate of Syria, isolating and eventually capturing Raqqqa, Daesh’s capital city. As part of the offensive, the SDF also captured dams downstream, reaching as far as the Iraq border.
8 Nov 2016 Election of Donald Trump▲
In a surprise victory, Republican candidate Donald Trump—a businessman and celebrity with no political experience—defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton—a former Secretary of State and First Lady—in the 2016 United States presidential election. Trump won 30 states with a total of 306 electors, gaining 57% of the electoral vote despite losing the popular vote by 2.1%. Trump’s success emphasized the divisions creeping into US society as well as the distrust much of the population had for the political establishment and the media. Accusations of Russian interference in the elections led the US intelligence community to launch an investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign in early 2017, ultimately concluding in 2019 that while there was “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference, there was insufficient evidence to bring conspiracy charges against Trump or his associates.