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AFP
September 26, 2020

Putin proposes election non-interference pact with US

World

AFP
September 26, 2020

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed on Friday concluding a pact with the United States against interfering in one another’s elections, just weeks before the US heads to the polls.

Western countries have for years accused Russia of using hackers and internet trolls to sway the outcome of elections, and US intelligence officials have said that it is once again manipulating social media in favour of Donald Trump as it did in 2016.

In a Kremlin statement, Putin called for the two countries to “exchange guarantees of non-interference in each others’ domestic affairs including elections, including with the use of information and communication technologies”.

He also called for a global pact agreeing not to use such methods to deal “the first blow” in conflicts. In addition to interfering in US politics, a hacking group believed linked to Russian intelligence services was accused by British officials of trying to steal information on coronavirus vaccines.

The British government this year also accused “Russian actors” of seeking to disrupt the 2019 general election by circulating leaked trade documents between London and Washington. German Chancellor Angela Merkel revealed in May that Russia had targeted her in hacking attacks, saying she had concrete proof of the “outrageous” spying attempts.

The Kremlin has denied allegations of election meddling and interference and instead accused the Western leaders of waging a disinformation campaign against Russia. In a statement ahead of the US presidential election on Nov 3, Putin called for a reset between Russia and the United States and said he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace. “(I propose)... exchanging guarantees of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, including electoral processes, including using information and communication technologies and high-tech methods,” he said.

Moscow’s relations with Washington are at post-Cold War lows as the election looms. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential election with the aim of tilting it in Donald Trump’s favour, including by hacking into the campaign of his rival Hillary Clinton. Moscow denies that charge.

Trump is currently campaigning for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden. “One of the main strategic challenges of our time is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital sphere,” Putin said in the Kremlin statement.

“We would like to once again appeal to the United States with a proposal to approve a comprehensive program of practical measures to reset our relations in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).” He proposed the two countries reach an agreement to prevent major cyberspace incidents, something he compared to a 1972 US-Soviet treaty reached at the height of the Cold War to prevent incidents at sea and in the air from escalating.

He also called for the two countries to fully restore communication lines between their respective agencies to discuss key international information on security issues. Russia has denied it is attempting to interfere in the 2020 US campaign, despite evidence to the contrary.