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A nation must think before it acts.
Emmanuel Macron’s landslide victory on Sunday, for many, symbolized a defeat for Russia, whose meddling across recent Western elections pointed to a dire future for the European Union and democracy globally.
The French elections and their politics provide valuable lessons for insulating democracies against Russian manipulation. But while the West should cheer for France’s successful countering of Russian interference, remember that Putin’s gamble is not a complete failure. Several ominous signs suggest Russia’s influence fight won’t end soon and still has legs to run not only in France but across the West.
Russia pushed Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate, Marine Le Pen, for months, overtly backing her campaign through diplomatic engagement and covertly through “hack and release” cyberinfluence.
But France’s two-stage runoff elections present Russian influence a tougher challenge for swaying votes toward its preferred candidate and away from its named adversary. Compromat, the timed release of stolen, compromising secrets on adversaries, provides the critical fuel for Russian influence of recent elections. Had the Russians released compromat on Macron prior to the first-round runoff elections, Putin may have taken out the top challenger to Le Pen but also elevated another viable opponent such as François Fillon or Jean-Luc Mélenchon, two candidates likely to absorb Macron’s votes.