WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said on Monday that Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries globally, but stopped short of accusing Moscow of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
The criticism of Russia, laid out in a new national security strategy based on Trump’s “America First” vision, reflects a view long held by U.S. diplomats that Russia actively undermines American interests at home and abroad, despite Trump’s own bid for warmer ties with President Vladimir Putin.
“Through modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world,” said the document.
It avoided directly citing what U.S. intelligence agencies say was Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election.
“Russia uses information operations as part of its offensive cyber efforts to influence public opinion across the globe. Its influence campaigns blend covert intelligence operations and false online personas with state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,'” the document said.
Trump has frequently spoken of wanting to improve relations with Putin, even though Russia has frustrated U.S. policy in Syria and Ukraine and done little to help Washington in its standoff with North Korea.
In a speech laying out his strategy, Trump noted that he received a call from Putin on Sunday to thank him for providing U.S. intelligence that helped thwart a bomb attack in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.
Trump said the collaboration was “the way it’s supposed to work.”
“But while we seek such opportunities of cooperation, we will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before,” he said at the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington.
The audience of about 650 people frequently applauded the speech. It included the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, several Cabinet secretaries, lawmakers, military personnel and officials from the intelligence community and other agencies.
A U.S. Justice Department investigation is looking into whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia, something that Moscow and Trump both deny.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Russians tried to tip the election to Trump through hacking and releasing emails to embarrass Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and spreading social media propaganda.
Facebook, Google (GOOGL.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) are facing a backlash after saying Russians used their services to anonymously spread divisive messages among Americans in the run-up to the election.
Other Western nations, including France, have accused Russia of trying to interfere in their elections.
Congress mandates that every U.S. administration set out its national security strategy. The new Trump strategy is influenced strongly by the thinking of top national security officials rather than that of the president himself, said one official involved in preparing the document.
The Republican president’s strategy reflects his “America First” priorities of protecting the U.S. homeland and borders, rebuilding the military, projecting strength abroad and pursuing trade policies more favourable to the United States.
Talking points sent to U.S. embassies worldwide on what diplomats should say about the new strategy makes clear that the official U.S. position is tough on Russia.
An unclassified State Department cable, seen by Reuters, said: “Russia tries to weaken the credibility of America’s commitment to Europe. With its invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia has demonstrated a willingness to use force to challenge the sovereignty of states in the region.”Harry Kazianis, an analyst at the conservative Center for the National Interest think tank, said, “While things with Moscow might be warm and fuzzy for the moment, President Putin will not take too kindly to being labelled as what essentially amounts to as an enemy of America.”
It drops Democratic former President Barack Obama’s 2016 description of climate change as a U.S. national security threat, aides said. Trump has vowed to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord unless changes are made to it.
The Trump administration lumps together China and Russia as competitors seeking to challenge U.S. power and erode its security and prosperity.
The singling out of China and Russia as “revisionist powers” also comes despite Trump’s own attempts to build strong relations Chinese President Xi Jinping.
A senior administration official said Russia and China were attempting to revise the global status quo - Russia in Europe with its military incursions into Ukraine and Georgia, and China in Asia by its aggression in the South China Sea. Russia denies the allegations that it meddled with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump has been working with Xi to exert pressure on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The administration warned that intellectual property theft by China is a national security problem.
“We need to protect data in different ways. We need to ensure that the legislation we have, like CFIUS, is up to date and reflects the kinds of strategic investments that are taking place by other countries,” an administration official said.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews the purchase of U.S. assets by foreign companies, has recently taken a strong stand against technology transfers to Chinese companies.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Arshad Mohammed, Warren Strobel and John Walcott; Editing by Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis