Moscow has found better ways to conceal influence operations that spread arguments for isolationism, officials and experts say

New York Times: Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger

Russia has intensified its online efforts to derail military funding for Ukraine in the United States and Europe, largely by using harder-to-trace technologies to amplify arguments for isolationism ahead of the U.S. elections, according to disinformation experts and intelligence assessments.

In recent days, intelligence agencies have warned that Russia has found better ways to hide its influence operations, and the Treasury Department issued sanctions last week against two Russian companies that it said supported the Kremlin’s campaign.

The stepped-up operations, run by aides to President Vladimir V. Putin and Russian military intelligence agencies, come at a critical moment in the debate in the United States over support for Ukraine in its war against Russia. While opposition to additional aid may have started without Russian influence, the Kremlin now sees an opportunity.

Russian operatives are laying the groundwork for what could be a stronger push to support candidates who oppose aiding Ukraine, or who call for pulling the United States back from NATO and other alliances, U.S. officials and independent researchers say.

Investigators say that firms working in the “Doppelgänger” network — and Russian intelligence agencies duplicating the tactics — are using the techniques to replicate and distort legitimate news sites in order to undermine continued aid to Ukraine.

These techniques are subtle and far more skillful than what Russia attempted in 2016, when it made up Facebook posts or tweets in the names of nonexistent Americans, and used them to fuel protests over immigration or other hot-button issues.

The loosely linked “Doppelgänger” creates fake versions of real news websites in the United States, Israel, Germany and Japan, among other countries. It often promotes websites previously associated with Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U.

The result is that much of the original speech is First Amendment-protected — say a member of Congress declaring that resources being sent to Ukraine should instead be used to patrol the southern border of the United States. But the amplification is engineered in Russia or by Russian influencers.

Mr. Putin has given responsibility for a growing number of influence operations to a key lieutenant, Sergei Kiriyenko, according to American and European officials. The Treasury Department last Wednesday imposed sanctions on people associated with Mr. Kiriyenko’s operations.

Researchers at Alethea, an anti-disinformation company, have identified a group affiliated with the G.R.U. that is using hard-to-detect techniques to spread similar messages on social media. A report by Alethea echoed a recent assessment by American intelligence agencies that said Russia would continue to “better hide their hand” while conducting influence operations.

“The network demonstrates an evolution of Russian objectives with their information operations,” Lisa Kaplan, the firm’s founder and chief executive, said in an interview. “Where the Russians previously sought to sow chaos, now they appear to be singularly focused on influencing democracies to elect candidates that do not support sending aid to Ukraine — which in turn supports isolationist, protectionist candidates and policies.”

“This long-term strategy, if effective, would result in reduced support for Ukraine globally,” she said.

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