After Hacking Claims, Here's The View From Russia On The U.S. Campaign

Jul 29, 2016
Originally published on July 29, 2016 5:16 pm

Russia is indignant about allegations that it was involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee and releasing thousands of embarrassing emails through WikiLeaks.

Democrats have charged that the exploit was designed to hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign and favor Donald Trump's. Russia denies any involvement, but the incident helps shed light on how Russia's political establishment perceives the two major-party presidential nominees.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was among the first Russian officials to ridicule the idea that the government had a role in the hacking incident. He called it "total stupidity."

Peskov said Russia carefully avoids any words or actions that could be interpreted as interfering in the electoral process. He said Washington politicians often use the Russia card during their campaigns.

There is a perception in Russia that the Clinton campaign is raising the Russian hacking issue to draw attention away from the content of the leaked emails, some of which showed the DNC supporting Clinton over her rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of meddling in politics abroad. A number of former Soviet states like Ukraine, and some European countries, have made similar allegations before.

In the DNC email case, Russia's political class sees the issue as an effort by Democrats to discredit Trump by portraying him as the Kremlin's favorite.

Konstantin von Eggert, a commentator and host for the opposition-leaning news channel TV Rain, says Russia's leadership has reasons for seeing a Trump presidency as a win-win situation.

Trump could either seek improved relations with Russia, he says, "or he'll create such a mess in the White House and in Washington generally that America will be weakened by a permanent political crisis and will not have much time to deal with Russia or for that matter, any other issues."

There's also a personal side to this for Putin, says Yevgeny Mischenko, a pro-Kremlin political consultant.

"Putin and Hillary Clinton don't have a very good history in their personal relations," he says. "Mrs. Clinton said a lot [of] not very pleasant things about Vladimir Putin."

Putin and Trump, by contrast, have expressed some mutual admiration. But Mischenko says many Russian political experts still view the New York billionaire with caution. They see Clinton as someone who may be bad for Russia, but still as a politician they know and can understand, whereas Trump is less of a known quantity.

"Trump is a maverick, and he's unpredictable," Mischenko says. "So today he says some pleasant things to Russia, and maybe tomorrow he will say maybe something unpleasant, and we will have a problem in our relations."

Despite that caution, von Eggert says Trump and Putin have an affinity that could draw them together.

"What I think unites Putin and Trump is an extremely cynical look at the world and the human condition, and I think this could, forgive me the pun, trump any other disagreements they may have," he says.

Whether or not the Russians are hacking the U.S. political campaigns, they will definitely be watching them — very closely.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're learning today about more cyberattacks on the Democratic Party. This morning, the organization that raises money for House Democrats confirmed it was hacked. This is coming a week after WikiLeaks published stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee. Democrats say the hackers are trying to help Donald Trump. As for who those hackers are, outside cybersecurity experts suspect Russia, a charge that Russia denies. NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Moscow and has this report.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was among the first Russian officials to ridicule the idea that the government had a role in the hacking incident. He called it total stupidity.

DMITRY PESKOV: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: Peskov said Russia carefully avoids any words or actions that could be interpreted as interfering in the electoral process. He said Washington politicians often use the Russia card during their campaigns. There's a perception here that the Clinton campaign is raising the Russian hacking issue to draw attention from the content of the leaked emails.

Russia's political class also sees the issue as an effort by the Democrats to discredit Trump by portraying him as being the Kremlin's favorite. Konstantin von Eggert says Russia's leadership has reasons for seeing a Trump presidency as a win-win situation. Von Eggert, who's a commentator and host for the opposition leaning news channel TV Rain says Trump could either seek improved relations with Russia...

KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT: Or he'll create such a mess in the White House and in Washington generally that America will be weakened by a permanent political crisis and will not have much time to deal with Russia or for that matter any other issues.

FLINTOFF: Yevgeny Mischenko is a pro-Kremlin political consultant who says there's also a personal side to this for President Putin.

YEVGENY MISCHENKO: Putin and Hillary Clinton don't have a very good history and personal relations. Mrs. Clinton said a lot not very pleasant things about Vladimir Putin.

FLINTOFF: On the other hand, Putin and Trump have expressed some mutual admiration. But Mischenko says many Russian political experts still view the New York billionaire with caution. They see Clinton as somebody who may be bad for Russia, but still as a politician they know and can understand, whereas Trump is less of a known quantity.

MISCHENKO: Trump is a maverick, and he is unpredictable. So today, he says some pleasant things to Russia, and maybe tomorrow he will say maybe something unpleasant and maybe we will have a problem in our relations.

FLINTOFF: Despite that caution, Konstantin von Eggert says Trump and Putin have an affinity that could draw them together.

VON EGGERT: What I think unites Putin and Trump is an extremely cynical look at the world and its human condition. And I think that this could - forgive me the pun - trump any of the disagreements they may have.

FLINTOFF: Whether or not the Russians are hacking the U.S. political campaigns, they'll definitely be watching them very closely. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.