A senior White House official says the Kremlin has launched a sophisticated campaign to influence Mexico’s 2018 presidential election, a video obtained by a Mexican newspaper shows.
The Reforma newspaper on January 7 said the comments came in a video clip from a speech given by U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster in December to the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.
In the December 15 speech, McMaster said there was already evidence of Russian meddling in the Mexican elections scheduled for July.
"We've seen that this is really a sophisticated effort to polarize democratic societies and pit communities within those societies against each other," McMaster said.
"You've seen, actually, initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already," said McMaster, without specifying the type of meddling suspected.
McMaster added that the U.S. government was concerned by the Kremlin’s use of advanced cybertools to push propaganda and disinformation.
Reuters news agency said a request for comment from McMaster's office was not immediately returned. The Kremlin also did not respond to a request for comment.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to the benefit of Republican Donald Trump and to the detriment of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusations.
"We have certainly never planned, do not intend, and will not meddle in the electoral process in any other country," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency on January 8.
The clip had not previously been reported on, but McMaster did refer to Russian meddling in Mexico during an interview with Voice of America (VOA) on January 2.
“The Russians were very active in Europe...in the French election recently, in the Spanish referendum in regards to Catalonia [independence]. You see them active in Mexico already, " he said in the interview.
Mexicans will vote in July to elect a new president to succeed Enrique Pena Nieto, who is prevented from seeking reelection because of term limits. Congressional seats and some governor races will also be decided upon by voters.
Opinion polls show that leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is running on an anticorruption platform and is the former mayor of Mexico City, is the favorite to win the presidency.
Some experts have said Lopez Obrador is also the Kremlin favorite, as he has received positive coverage from Russian state-run news media.
The candidate has said he would seek friendly relations with Mexico's North American neighbor but that he would demand respect from the U.S. government.
Mexican Senator Armando Rios Piter of the Party of the Democratic Revolution told the The Hill publication last year that if Moscow "intervened in the United States, there's every reason to think that Mexico is a target for attack."
CIA Director Mike Pompeo echoed McMaster’s comments during an interview with CBS TV’s Face the Nation program, saying he is concerned about continued efforts by Russia to meddle, but adding that “many foes” want to “undermine Western democracy.”
There is "this Washington-based focus on Russian interference," he said, adding that he wanted to "make sure we broaden the conversation."
He said the CIA and other agencies are working to prevent potential interference in the 2018 congressional elections.
With reporting by Reuters, The Hill, and Reforma