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The Moscow Kremlin. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/TASS via Getty Images

Kremlin-spawned influence campaigns that falsely accuse Ukraine of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election have successfully furthered Russia's yearslong geopolitical battle against its largest European neighbor.

Why it matters: In addition to deflecting blame for its own well-documented meddling in American politics, the Kremlin has an interest in making support for Ukraine a more polarizing, partisan issue in the U.S. American military assistance is critical to Ukraine's efforts to defend itself against Russian aggression and territorial incursion.

Driving the news: U.S. intelligence officials briefed senators in recent weeks on the Russian campaign to frame Ukraine for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The briefing also covered the evolution of the Kremlin's tactics, including a much improved ability to cover its tracks.

  • On Thursday, former top National Security Council official Fiona Hill testified that the Ukraine conspiracy theory is "a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

Context: Moscow has a history of using state media, online troll farms and a network of sympathetic agitators to promote content designed to deflect culpability for the Kremlin’s misdeeds.

What to watch: Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, much attention has been paid to the potential for social media operations of the sort Russia's infamous troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, carried out in 2016. But such operations take many forms — often relying, as in this case, on the use of proxies to spread a narrative across the information ecosystem.

The bottom line: Russia's Ukraine conspiracy theories offer a reminder that disinformation spreads through various channels, both online and offline. While elections are a prominent flashpoint, these interference campaigns are ongoing and put a range of political events in their crosshairs.

Jessica Brandt is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the head of policy and research for its Alliance for Securing Democracy.

Go deeper

Updated 1 min ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.