With the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. publicly agreeing that Putin attempted to manipulate the U.S. elections in November by releasing damaging Democratic Party emails, analysts are weighing what possible motivation Putin may have had to encroach on the democratic process. Many consider Putin’s election hack a means of exacting revenge against Hillary Clinton. In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul claimed that Putin is genuinely angry with Clinton. According to McFaul, Putin’s election hack may have been revenge for her criticism of the 2011 election that put him in power.
At the time, speaking as Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton stated that the Russian people “deserve to have their voices heard and their votes counted, and that means they deserve fair, free transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.” When demonstrations broke out against Putin, he accused Clinton of actively instigating the protests with her statements.
Putin raged at the time, as reported by The Guardian, “We are required to protect our sovereignty. We will have to think about strengthening the law and holding more responsible those who carry out the task of a foreign government to influence internal political processes.”
The Russian leader’s anger over Clinton’s statements and perceived meddling may be the motive for the election hack. The secret C.I.A. assessment that was released in a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill reportedly presented an overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence showing that Russia actively hacked the U.S. election in order to get Trump elected over Clinton.
In stark contrast to Putin’s animosity towards Clinton, Putin and Trump have expressed their mutual admiration on numerous occasions. Trump has gone so far as to call Putin a “strong leader.” While Russian television often portrays Trump as a friend of Russia, Clinton is often the target of scathing criticism. While the consensus view is that the Putin election hack deliberately benefited Trump, the president-elect dismisses the veracity of these claims, saying to Fox News on Sunday,
“Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country.”
The Putin election hack has become another thin thread upon which Democrats are hanging their hopes, however these hopes are tenuous. Responding to the barrage of accusations, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, stated that the assessment is “some sort of nonsense.”
“Every day, Putin’s site gets attacked by tens of thousands of hackers. Many of these attacks can be traced to U.S. territory. It’s not as though we accuse the White House or Langley of doing it each time it happens.”
Although intelligence agencies have identified Russian hackers who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails and have claimed that these were part of a more insidious plan to thwart Clinton’s success, some commentators, Republicans in particular, remain unconvinced of Putin’s election hack.
Despite these doubts, McFaul stated in his NBC interview yesterday that Putin was very upset with Clinton “and continued to be for the rest of the time that I was in government”.
“One could speculate that this is his moment for payback.”
While the notion that Putin’s election hack was revenge against Clinton has not been confirmed, the Russian hackers undoubtedly favored Trump. The two identified hackers, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, used stealthy tactics to evade triggering alerts. As Russia has become increasingly diplomatically isolated since Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine, the government has been forced to rely on cyber intelligence. The Russians have been hugely successful at penetrating “government agencies, tech companies, defense contractors, energy and manufacturing firms, and universities in the United States, Canada and Europe as well as in Asia,” as reported by the Washington Post. However, their main focus is hacking the U.S. political system.
Whether or not the WikiLeaks debacle and Clinton’s loss are the direct result of Putin ordering hackers to interfere in the U.S. elections remains to be seen. What is clear is that the Russian leader and Clinton have no love lost between them. Once the C.I.A. ascertains the veracity of the circumstantial evidence they claim proves that Putin hacked the election, they will turn their attention to the motivation: was this an act of revenge against Clinton? McFaul and others seem to believe that it is.
[Featured Image by Mikhail Metzel/AP Images]