Russian President Vladimir Putin said that some “patriotic” individuals might have engaged in hacking, but insisted Russia as a country has never done it, and he on Thursday pledged to wait out US political battles to forge constructive ties with US President Donald Trump.
The Russian leader lamented what he described as “Russo-phobic hysteria” in the US that makes it “somewhat inconvenient to work with one another or even to talk,” adding that “someday this will have to stop.”
US intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party e-mails, helping Trump’s election victory.
Speaking at a meeting with senior editors of leading international news agencies, Putin said that “we never engage in that at the state level.”
He alleged that some evidence pointing at Russian hackers’ participation in cyberattacks could have been falsified in an attempt to smear Russia.
“I can imagine that some do it deliberately, staging a chain of attacks in such a way as to cast Russia as the origin of such an attack,” Putin said. “Modern technologies allow that to be done quite easily.”
Putin added that while the Russian state has never been involved in hacking, it was “theoretically possible” that Russia-West tensions could have prompted some individuals to launch cyberattacks.
“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” he said. “The hackers are the same. They would wake up, read about something going on in interstate relations and if they feel patriotic, they may try to contribute to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia.”
At the same time, Putin argued that hackers, wherever they come from, cannot sway election outcomes because public opinion is not that easy to manipulate.
Putin said the “Russo-phobic hysteria” in the US is mostly aimed “against the current president of the US to prevent him from working normally.”
The goal is to “establish an atmosphere that is going to prevent us from addressing common issues, say with regard to terrorism,” he said.
Russia had been encouraged by Trump’s campaign promises to improve Russia-US ties, he said, adding that Moscow still hopes to forge a constructive dialogue.
“We are patient, we know how to wait and we will wait,” Putin said.
Asked if he could offer any advice to Trump, Putin said it would be “counterproductive” to give advice to a political counterpart and added that “a person like President Trump doesn’t need any advice, especially if it comes to political issues.”
Russian meddling was also a concern in France, with Putin publicly expressing his sympathy for French President Emmanuel Macron’s rivals in the campaign.
Macron’s aides in February claimed that Russian groups were interfering with his campaign, and a document leak hit Macron’s campaign in the final hours of the race.
National Cybersecurity Agency of France Director-General Guillaume Poupard said on Thursday that it found no trace of a Russian hacking group in its investigations of a hack and document leak that hit Macron’s campaign.
Poupard described the Macron campaign hack as “not very technological” and said it “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone.”
Putin also said that economic restrictions against Russia have had “zero effect,” predicting that the strain in relations will ease, because “it’s counterproductive and harmful for all.”
Touching on tensions in the Pacific, Putin said Russia’s military deployments on a group of Pacific islands also claimed by Japan is due to concerns about US military buildup in the region.
Putin said the US would likely continue to build up its missile shield in the region, even if North Korea agrees to curb its nuclear and missile programs, in the same way it has continued to develop missile defenses in Europe, despite a deal with Iran that curbed its nuclear program in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
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