Putin, left, and President Peña Nieto Putin, left, and President Peña Nieto: designs on Mexican election?

Russian meddling is no joke: journalist

Potential conflict seen in Russian link to a member of López Obrador's team

The possibility of Russian interference in this year’s presidential election is no joke, Mexican journalist León Krauze wrote yesterday in the Washington Post.

Krauze’s warning of potential meddling from Moscow came one day after leading presidential aspirant Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, posted a bizarre video to his social media accounts making light of unsubstantiated claims that he is receiving covert support from the Kremlin.

But Krauze argued in an opinion piece that humor is no way to attempt to defuse the allegations or to dismiss the prospect that Russia could influence the wider electoral process.

In a minute-long video, AMLO appears in the port of Veracruz and jokes that he is waiting for a Russian submarine carrying gold from Moscow.

The three-time candidate goes on to take lighthearted aim at a suggestion from a spokesman for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that the Russian government is somehow “involved” in his presidential campaign.

“I am now Andrés Manuelovich,” he joked before concluding the video by jesting that he doesn’t live from “el oro de Moscú” (gold from Moscow) but rather “del loro de Palenque” (from a parrot in Palenque), apparently referring to a pet bird he owns.

However, a potential conflict of interest in AMLO’s proposed team, the potency of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machinery and Moscow’s “meddling in over 20 electoral processes across the globe” means that the prospect of Russian interference is no laughing matter, Krauze countered.

“López Obrador needs to get serious and sort out a potential conflict of interest within his team before shrugging off any suspicion of Russian influence in his campaign and, crucially, his now likely future government,” he wrote.

AMLO unveiled his potential cabinet secretaries last month, announcing that eight men and eight women would become the core of his executive team should he win power. One of the flagged appointees was Irma Eréndira Sandoval, an academic who AMLO said would be given the job of fighting corruption in Mexico’s bureaucracy.

But Krauze pointed out that Sandoval is married to a fellow academic and enthusiastic AMLO supporter whom he describes as “an inconvenient partner” given his alleged proximity to the Russian government.

John Ackerman is a “frequent and trusted contributor to Russia Today,” Krauze wrote, describing the media outlet as “Moscow’s cleverly disguised propaganda machine.”

“Ackerman’s work on Russia Today dangerously reduces the degrees of separation between Putin’s regime and López Obrador,” Krauze wrote in another op-ed published Monday by the newspaper El Universal.

Krauze dismissed Ackerman’s subsequent defense of the Russian government-funded media organization, arguing that his attempt to compare the alleged Putin mouthpiece to the United Kingdom’s BBC or Germany’s Deutsche Welle was a “false equivalency.”

He also pointed out that Russia Today is now registered as a “foreign agent” with the U.S. Department of Justice, adding that U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster recently revealed “initial signs” of Russian interference in Mexico.  Leading American experts on Mexican politics share the same view, he wrote.

Krauze also charged that “given the Russian government’s ambitious and well-documented attempt to influence elections and destabilize even fully functioning democracies, the potential conflict of interest within López Obrador’s inner circle is anything but amusing.”

Instead, Krauze again suggested that AMLO take a different and more serious approach to address claims of Russian interference.

López Obrador “should offer absolute certainty . . . that no suspicious association exists within his team and his campaign,” he wrote.

Mexico also “must take every measure possible to avoid being the next guinea pig in Putin’s experiment in destabilization,” Krauze wrote, asserting that the country already has enough challenges and threats of its own to deal with.

Last year was Mexico’s most violent on record, the peso remains under significant pressure, a contentious NAFTA renegotiation process is under way and the country is still rebuilding after September’s twin devastating earthquakes.

Krauze concluded that “there is no place for ambiguities or shadows” in an AMLO presidency and that “the world knows very well what happened last time a country laughed off the possibility of Russian interference in a democratic process.”

Mexico will go to the polls to elect a new president on July 1.

José Antonio Meade, representing the incumbent PRI, and Ricardo Anaya for a National Action Party (PAN)-led coalition look set to join López Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, on the ballot.

Source: The Washington Post (en), El Universal (sp)

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