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U.S. NATO Envoy Warns Of Russian 'Malign Influence' Ahead Of Talks

Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels in 2014.
Douglas Lute, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels in 2014.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO says envoys from the alliance may raise the issue of what he called Moscow's "malign influence" on the internal affairs of NATO countries when they meet their Russian counterpart in Brussels on December 19.

Douglas Lute told ABC News in an interview that cyberattacks targeting American political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee (DNC), that Washington accuses Russia of directing are "not an immediate agenda item" for the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.

"I imagine that more than one ally, however, will bring up with our Russian counterpart this pattern of malign influence that is seen not only in the United States by way of this DNC hacking experience but across other democracies in the alliance," Lute said in the interview broadcast December 18.

The meeting of the council, which brings together Russia's top diplomat to the alliance and ambassadors from NATO-member countries, comes amid mounting calls in Washington for an investigation into possible Russian hacking aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that hackers directed by the Russian government targeted DNC servers and e-mail accounts, as well as the campaign staff of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, ahead of the November 8 election.

Several media outlets later reported that a CIA assessment had concluded that Russian hackers intervened to help Republican Donald Trump win the election, an allegation Trump has rejected.

Russia has denied it was behind the cyber intrusions.

Lute suggested NATO envoys could press Russia over other areas in which Western governments believe Moscow is seeking to sow disunity across the alliance, alluding to Russian courting of populist, anti-establishment, and often fringe movements in Europe and the United States.

German intelligence has said it fears potential attempts by Russia to use cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to interfere in federal elections next year.

"These are activities which include…funding of political parties, misinformation campaigns, and even promoting civil unrest," Lute said. "So there's a larger pattern here that the alliance is aware and which is a good topic for our discussion with our Russian colleague."

Russian officials have routinely rejected accusations that their government is engaged in such meddling, and Moscow has long accused NATO of stoking tensions with its expansion toward Russia's borders after the fall of the Soviet Union.

NATO says it is a defensive alliance and does not represent a threat to Russia.

The December 19 meeting will be only the third time the NATO-Russia Council has met during 2016.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that the two sides plan to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv's forces and Russia-backed separatists.

NATO has suspended all practical cooperation with Russia since Moscow's seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula.

But Stoltenberg said on December 15 that talking with the Kremlin is necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to broader conflict.

"When tensions run high, as today, it is even more important to have direct dialogue with Russia," he said.

With reporting by ABC News, Reuters, and AP
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