Ukrainian Election Task Force—Exposing Foreign Interference in Ukraine’s Democracy

Western democracies are under threat from outside meddling, and Ukraine is the testing ground for this interference. The Russian Federation first employed many of the tactics and instruments it used to influence European and American elections in Ukraine. Given this, Ukraine's presidential elections in 2019 and their subsequent parliamentary elections are crucial not only for Ukraine, but also for the West. By protecting Ukraine's democracy against outside interference by the Kremlin or other foreign actors, we are also ensuring the integrity and stability of Western democracies. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s persistent efforts to influence the domestic politics of his neighbors and countries well beyond Russia’s borders have posed enormous challenges in Europe and across the Atlantic. The March 2019 presidential election will be a pivotal event in Ukrainian history. The result will impact Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the Donbas against Russian aggression and other foreign interference and will influence Ukraine’s progress on reform and on maintaining a path toward the West. It is likely that Moscow and other foreign actors will attempt to repeat actions similar to those used in 2014, and once again interfere in the vote.

The Threat to Ukraine’s Election

The Kremlin as well as other foreign actors will likely push a variety of content, designed to spread disinformation about the election, via social media and sympathetic outlets. Moscow may also use its formidable cyber capabilities to hack into the campaign operations of candidates and to try to shut down major installations—including, but not limited to, electricity grids, phone networks, and airport control systems—in order to suggest that the authorities are not in control, and to undermine the integrity of the electoral count. As it did in 2014, it may also try again to sabotage Ukraine’s election and voting system. The Task Force will seek to expose foreign interference and will flag threats to the integrity of Ukraine's presidential election.

By Ukraine, For Ukraine

The upcoming elections in Ukraine are for Ukrainians to decide, not outside forces. Any efforts designed to influence and/or undermine the integrity of the elections would constitute an attack on Ukraine and would require a response from the international community. Such efforts must be exposed. Ukrainians deserve the right to choose their own leaders free of outside influence and interference. By exposing foreign interference as it occurs in the run-up to March 2019, the Atlantic Council and its partners hope to provide Ukrainians with the necessary tools to check outside efforts to influence their vote, to establish the facts, and to cast their ballots for a better future for Ukraine.

A Rapid-Response Team

To help Western decision and opinion makers gather information about election meddling attempts, the Atlantic Council, the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, and the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity have established a Ukrainian Election Task Force. Working with other Ukrainian institutions—StopFake and the Razumkov Center—the three partners are creating a rapid-response team with the ability to monitor, evaluate, and disclose the full range of foreign subversive activities in Ukraine, and to propose suitable responses. John E. Herbst (US Ambassador to Ukraine in 2003-2006) and Geysha Gonzalez of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center; David J. Kramer, a former US assistant secretary of state; Jakub Kalensky, Atlantic Council senior fellow and former disinformation lead at the EU’s East StratCom Task Force – will all lead the team.

Alongside the Task Force, the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab’s (DFRLab) active monitoring mission will provide its unique expertise to the Response Team’s efforts. Using innovative open-source research methodologies, they will provide real-time monitoring and analysis of the information environment in advance of and during the elections. This is a proven model that the Atlantic Council has developed over the last two years, including successful monitoring missions of elections in Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Macedonia, Mexico, the United States, and beyond.

The Task Force has launched an online dashboard providing a real-time index of efforts to interfere in Ukraine’s democratic process. The Task Force will also arrange conferences in 2019 on the subject of foreign interference in Ukraine’s elections in Brussels, Washington, and Kyiv. Task Force partners will also hold meetings with senior officials in Berlin, Brussels, and Washington to make sure that this issue receives the attention it deserves.

David J. Kramer, Team Lead

Senior Fellow, Vaclav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy, Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, Florida International University

David Kramer joined Florida International University’s Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs as a senior fellow in the Vaclav Havel Program for Human Rights and Diplomacy in May 2017. Before moving to Miami, Kramer had worked in Washington, DC for over twenty years, most recently with the McCain Institute for International Leadership as senior director for human rights and democracy. Before that, he served for four years as president of Freedom House. Prior to that, he was a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Kramer served eight years in the US Department of State, including as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor; deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs; professional staff member in the secretary’s Office of Policy Planning; and senior adviser to the undersecretary for global affairs. He has also served as executive director of the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy in Washington.

Laura Galante, Senior Strategist and Cyber Lead

Founder, Galante Strategies; Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Laura Galante founded Galante Strategies in 2017. At Galante Strategies, she helps equip governments and corporations to respond effectively to cyber and information threats. Additionally, she has helped develop an operational cyber security framework for the Ukrainian government and advised numerous other European governments on cyber threats. Ms. Galante also serves as a senior fellow for the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative. Prior to starting Galante Strategies, she served as the director of global intelligence for FireEye Inc., a cyber security company. She has been featured on BBC, CNN, NBC, and NPR, and in Le Monde, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and her juris doctor from the Catholic University of America.

Jakub Kalenský, Disinformation Lead

Senior Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Jakub Kalenský joined the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center in Autumn 2018 as a senior fellow focusing on disinformation. In this capacity, Jakub is focusing on raising the awareness about pro-Kremlin disinformation campaigns via producing articles and reports on this topic, including for the DisinfoPortal; giving interviews and public speeches; as well as via briefing governments and journalists in Europe. He also works with the Ukrainian Election Task Force as disinformation lead. Between 2015 and 2018, Jakub worked for the European Union’s (EU’s) East StratCom Task Force as the team lead for countering disinformation. There, Jakub was responsible for the EUvsDisinfo campaign and its flagship product, the weekly #DisinfoReview. This work also included briefings and trainings of journalists and civil servants, as well as numerous background briefings for the media. Before that, Jakub worked as a political correspondent in numerous print, online and television newsrooms in the Czech Republic. He was awarded for his work in 2011 with a prize for promising junior journalists. Jakub has a degree in Philosophy and Russian language and literature.

Oleksiy Melnyk, Razumkov Centre, Kinetic Lead

Co-director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programs, Razumkov Centre

Before joining the Razumkov Centre (Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies), he served as the Head of the Organizational and Analytical Division and the First Assistant to the Minister of Defence of Ukraine and worked for SC Ukroboronservice. He also served 21 years in the Air Force (Lt. Col. Ret.) including participation in the UN peacekeeping operation (UNTAES). He studied international relations and security at the Royal College of Defence Studies, London, UK (2007). Before that he was educated in the United States under the International Military and Education Program (1993-94 & 2000-2001) and graduated from the Air Force Academy (1984).

Maxim Eristavi, Media Lead

Research Fellow, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council; Co-Founder, Hromadske International

Maxim Eristavi is a research fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Mr. Eristavi is also a Ukrainian writer, media entrepreneur, and civil rights advocate. He is one of the most well-known English-speaking journalists stationed in Eastern Europe and serves as a founding consultant for the Russian Language News Exchange, the biggest support network for independent newsrooms in Eastern Europe. In 2014, Mr. Eristavi co-founded Hromadske International, a leading independent news startup covering Eastern Europe in Russian and English. He has been a contributor for news outlets such as BBC, CNN, Reuters, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Politico, and the Washington Post, among others. He is the only openly gay journalist in Ukraine and has been an outspoken voice in raising civil rights issues of the region abroad. Mr. Eristavi’s work and bridge-building took him to parliaments and foreign ministries of the United Kingdom and Sweden, the Senate hearings at US Congress, and the EU Parliament. Mr. Eristavi is a 2015 Poynter fellow at Yale University with a focus on informational wars and pan-regional LGBTI civil rights movements. He is also a 2016-17 fellow of the Millennium Leadership Program at the Atlantic Council.

Ambassador John Herbst

Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

John Herbst is the director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center. Ambassador Herbst served for thirty-one years as a foreign service officer in the US Department of State, retiring at the rank of career minister. He was the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006. Prior to his ambassadorship in Ukraine, he was the ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2000 to 2003. Ambassador Herbst previously served as US consul general in Jerusalem; principal deputy to the ambassador-at-large for the Newly Independent States; director of the Office of Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs; director of regional affairs in the Near East Bureau; and at the embassies in Tel Aviv, Moscow, and Saudi Arabia. He most recently served as director of the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University. He has received two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards, the Secretary of State’s Career Achievement Award, the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Civilian Service Award. Ambassador Herbst’s writings on stability operations, Central Asia, Ukraine, and Russia are widely published.

Geysha Gonzalez, AC Lead

Deputy Director, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council

Geysha Gonzalez is the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center where she oversees programming and strategy. She’s also the founder of, an online guide tracking efforts to counter disinformation. Prior to joining the Council, Geysha spent two years at Freedom House, a human rights and democracy watchdog, working in various roles including as a member for the Freedom of Expression team, where she worked on issues related to digital and physical security for human rights defenders. She also contributed to Freedom House’s flagship report, Freedom in the World, and wrote several pieces on the rise of modern dictatorships and international sporting events. Her previous experiences include work as a parliamentary assistant for the British Parliament and on Capitol Hill. Her work has been featured on The Hill and The Washington Post. She holds a master’s degree in history of international relations from the London School of Economics, where she focused on transatlantic relations during the Cold War in the 1960s and 1980s. She earned her bachelor’s in international affairs with a focus on European politics from Marquette University and spent a year at King’s College London.

Yevhen Fedchenko

Co-Founder and Chief Editor,

Yevhen Fedchenko is a co-founder and chief editor of the fact-checking website, which is a leading hub of expertise on Russian disinformation. He is also the director of the Mohyla School of Journalism at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine. Dr. Fedchenko spent more than 20 years in media, covering international stories for different outlets and serving as the leader of the foreign news desk at one of leading Ukrainian TV channels. Additionally, he has contributed to the New York Times, BBC, and Politico, among others. After moving to academia, he has taught international relations as well as a course on news media. He served as a visiting professor at Ohio University and a Fulbright visiting professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He is also a co-founder of the Digital Future of Journalism program for journalists and the Digital Media for Universities Internet journalism curriculum development program.

Kateryna Kruk

Communications Specialist,

Kateryna Kruk is a communications specialist and political scientist focusing on Ukrainian post-Maidan transition, international affairs, and analyzing Russian disinformation campaigns in Ukraine. She is an external fellow at the European Values Kremlin Watch program and an analyst at StopFake. Kateryna Kruk is also an author and a host of the TV program StopFake News, which is devoted to issues of media literacy and exposing propaganda efforts. Kruk took an active part in the Euromaidan protests in 2013-2014, also known as a Revolution of Dignity. For her active role in communicating the revolution to the international audience, Kruk was awarded the Atlantic Council's Freedom Award in 2014. As a communications expert, she worked in Ukrainian government (2014, 2017) and Ukrainian parliament (2016). Kruk is an alumna of Wroclaw University and College of Europe. She is bilingual in Ukrainian and Polish and fluent in English, Russian, French, and German.

Kenneth Geers

Senior Fellow, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council; Ambassador, NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence; Affiliate, Digital Society Institute-Berlin

Dr. Kenneth Geers is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE) ambassador, and an affiliate with the Digital Society Institute-Berlin. Kenneth served for twenty years in the US government, with time in the US Army, at the National Security Agency (NSA), at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), and at NATO. In the private sector, he served as a senior global threat Analyst at FireEye and a senior research scientist at Comodo Cybersecurity. In academia, he was a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in Ukraine. His publications include: Strategic Cyber Security (Author), Cyber War in Perspective: Russian Aggression against Ukraine (Editor), The Virtual Battlefield: Perspectives on Cyber Warfare (Co-Editor), Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (Technical Expert), and many articles and chapters on international and cyber security.

Galyna Petrenko

Director, Detector Media

Galyna Petrenko is a director at NGO Detector Media. As a journalist and media expert with more than 15 years of experience, Ms. Petrenko previously worked as editor-in-chief of the Detector Media website, deputy editor-in-chief of the Telekrytyka and the Marketing Media Review, editor-in-chief of the New Marketing magazine in Ukraine and Russia. Currently, she also serves as a member of the public council at the Ukrainian State Film Agency, the Ukrainian Film Academy and the Independent Media Council. She is also a co-author of the draft law on restricting election campaigning and countering hidden advertising, roadmaps on reforming political advertising and countering Internet piracy.

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Please contact Michael Newton, Communications Coordinator, Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council: