Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was “theoretically possible” that “patriotically minded” private Russian citizens could have taken it upon themselves to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” Putin said Thursday.
The Russian president, however, insisted the Kremlin was not directly involved in any coordinated hacking efforts.
“We’re not doing this on the state level,” Putin said.
U.S. intelligence agencies in January assessed with high confidence that the Russian president personally ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at harming then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
But Putin has said repeatedly that neither he nor the Russian government had any direct involvement in the election.
He said independent hackers “are like artists” who select their targets depending on how they feel any given day.
Putin said he was concerned that modern technology could have modified a hacker’s digital footprint to make it seem like the Kremlin was the source of the attack.
“I can imagine that someone is doing this purposefully — building the chain of attacks so that the territory of Russian Federation appears to be the source of the attack,” Putin said.
“Modern technologies allow to do that kind of thing, it’s rather easy to do,” he added.
The Russian president said there’s no way an independent hacker could radically influence the outcome of a sovereign country’s election.
“I’m deeply convinced that no hackers can radically influence another country’s election campaign,” he said. “No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.”
Putin said the perpetuation of “Russo-phobic hysteria” over election hacking has made it difficult to maintain cordial relations with the U.S.
“It’s having an impact, and I’m afraid this is one of the goals of those who organize it are pursuing and they can fine tune the public sentiments to their liking, trying to establish an atmosphere that is going to prevent us from addressing common issues, say with regard to terrorism,” Putin said.
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