- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Russia’s top election official has warned of “fake news” being used to discredit next month’s Kremlin race.

Ella Pamfilova, the chair of the Central Election Commission of Russia, said the upcoming contest — and potentially incumbent President Vladimir Putin’s re-election campaign — risks being muddied by fake news spread on social media, state-owned media reported Tuesday.

“[G]iven the current climate, when not a single day passes without Russia getting accused of everything bad under the sun, a wave of discrediting the election will mount,” Ms. Pamfilova told TASS in an interview. “Huge resources will be shelled out by those who find it necessary to weaken our country at any price.

Ms. Pamfilova specifically warned of fake news being used to discredit the election by alleging voter fraud, TASS reported.

“This is done to cook up negative information so that so-called independent experts could use to draw conclusions about ‘mass violations,’” she said in an interview.

Additionally, she warned of potential “provocations” targeting polling places during the election, TASS reported.

“I want to send a warning that we will be ready to take on any provocateurs at full throttle to sharply resist [these attempts] and fully stave them off,” Ms. Pamfilova said.

The chairwoman’s comment came in the aftermath of the U.S. Justice Department unsealing criminal charges Friday against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities accused of interfering in the 2016 White House race in part by spreading disinformation on social media using bogus internet personas.

“The defendants allegedly conducted what they called information warfare against the United States, with the stated goal of spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in announcing the charges.

The Obama administration concluded last year that Mr. Putin authorized an interference campaign targeting the 2016 White House and particularly the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, the likes of which resulted in a multi-pronged operation currently being investigated by the Justice Department and members of Congress.

“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’” the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded in January 2017.

Mr. Putin has denied meddling in the 2016 race. He’s served as either Russia’s president or prime minister since 1999 and is expected to win re-election in next month’s race.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled last year that the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections were “unfair” and “compromised,” and election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Mr. Putin’s most recent victory in 2012 was marred by “abuse of government resources.”

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