Task Force Update: Five Years Later

Five years ago in Kyiv, roughly 100 protestors, dubbed the “Heavenly Hundred,” made the ultimate sacrifice when they were gunned down while demonstrating against the corrupt, authoritarian government of Viktor Yanukovych. Soon after, Yanukovych fled to Russia, and Russian forces invaded and illegally annexed Crimea and then turned their sights to The Donbas. Nearly 13,000 more Ukrainians have lost their lives, including many innocent civilians and others defending their country.

All this is the result of Vladimir Putin’s decision to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to undermine the Revolution of Dignity. After all, a successful Ukraine more integrated with the West might threaten the kind of regime that Putin has commanded in Russia for the past 19 years.

In just over a month, Ukrainians will go to the polls in the next step along the democratic path. Voters will cast their ballots in a presidential election in which the Central Election Commission (CEC) has registered 44 candidates for the race. The election comes despite continued fighting in the east of Ukraine and a deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea, tragedies for which Putin bears responsibility.

To monitor Russian efforts to discredit and interfere with the upcoming election, the Ukrainian Election Task Force has launched a “dashboard” that provides timely reporting of various types of interference in the election. This dashboard supplements the analysis and assessments published by the Task Force over the past two months.

That analysis includes a regular “Russian News Monitor” that our partner Detector Media has produced offering useful summaries (and debunking) of the latest Russian propaganda narratives.

Separately, Laura Galante reports on Moscow’s use of cryptocurrency to pay hackers for an attack in late January on the computers and email accounts of employees of Ukraine’s CEC. Given that Ukraine has become a testing ground for Russian cyber operations, the West should have an interest in helping Ukraine since Europe and the United States are undoubtedly Russia’s next targets.

Roman Shutov adds that the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), one of the best-known Ukrainian election watchdogs, is warning of various threats from Russia that may influence the Ukrainian presidential election, including psychological operations, cyber provocations, financial support, and kinetic pressure.

Finally, Oleksiy Melnyk notes the growing talk coming from Moscow of an escalation in fighting, a possible attempt to sow discord ahead of Ukraine’s election. Such concern is not new, of course, but five years since Putin’s invasion of Crimea and with the conflict ongoing in eastern Ukraine, nothing can be ruled out.