Putin proved a major influencer in the US presidential election in 2016. Russian influence on the election first appeared four years before the actual election, when two Russians, working for the Internet Research Agency, acquired knowledge about US social media to help provide information to the Russian propaganda machine (Shane, Scott; Mazzetti, Mark. 2018). Additionally, his Russian spy agency, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) hacked the Democratic National Committee’s network to further reach his goal of getting Americans to vote for the candidate he wanted to see win.
Putin used a series of federally run agencies as tools. The Internet Research Agency was one of them. This shady agency was accredited to almost all the fake social media accounts created to deceive the American public. Posts were created to discriminate against Hillary Clinton, a vocal enemy of Putin. Other posts were aimed at supporting President Trump’s campaign. On Facebook alone, the Internet Research Agency created “2,700 fake Facebook accounts, 80,000 posts, many of them elaborate images with catchy slogans”. These accounts and posts reached an audience of 126 million Americans (Shane, Scott; Mazzetti, Mark. 2018).
As the presidential campaign went on, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) files and emails were breached by a hacker who called himself Guccifer 2.0. He gave the documents that were damaging towards Hillary Clinton to the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange. Assange released the embarrassing documents on July 22, 2016 — three days before the Democratic National Convention. We now know that Guccifer 2.0 was not just one person, but multiple GRU agents acting under Putin (Shane, Scott; Mazzetti, Mark. 2018). In September, just 2 months after the exposure of the documents, Putin said publicly that “it was important [that] the DNC data was exposed to WikiLeaks”, calling the search for the source of the leaks a distraction. He said this even though evidence suggests that he directed the cyber-attacks to occur. (2017. Intelligence Community Assessment).
Putin Publicly accused Clinton of inciting protests against his regime in 2011 and 2012. As part of this view, the Intelligence Community Assessment stated, “we assess the Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.” Clearly, with all this evidence, it is certain that Putin used his country’s own spies and hackers to influence the elections.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Putin said that “the Russian government [has] no ties to the hackers” and that “the identity of the culprit…is not as important as the content of the leaks.” (2018. 2016 Presidential Campaign Hacking Fast Facts). He explains that the hacking of the DNC was likely done by patriotic Russians who felt threatened by the United States. Julian Assange, in an interview, likewise said that the leaks from the DNC were not at all attributed to Russians. Feeding off interviews, Putin continues to denounce that he had anything to do with the leaks and that there was absolutely no interference by Russia on the elections, despite all the evidence that suggests the contrary.
Importantly, through Putin’s direct actions in meddling with US elections, this shows that the US may be behind in cyberwarfare as the US was not able to prevent the cyber-attacks. Additionally, from this interference, Russia will learn from any mistakes and successes in the presidential elections so that they can influence future US elections. With Putin being behind the election meddling, this shows that the very top of the Kremlin is willing to use many sources to influence international politics so that it can further fulfill its goal of becoming a world power and undermine US democracy.
- Shane, Scott; Mazzetti, Mark. 2018. “The Plot to Subvert and Election; Unraveling the Russia Story So Far.” The New York Times. Accessed March 6, 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/ 20/us/politics/russia-interference-election-trump-clinton.html 2017.
- “Intelligence Community Assessment; Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections.” Accessed March 6, 2019 from https://learningsuite.byu.edu/plugins/Upload/fileDownload.php?fileId=7da51b31-6quv-Lzew-8GVw-px7b930c3f6d 2018.
- “2016 Presidential Campaign Hacking Fast Facts.” CNN. Accessed March 6, 2019 from https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/26/us/2016-presidential-campaign-hacking-fast-facts/index.html Vladimirov, Nikita. 2018.
- “The illusion of choice: Why Vladimir Putin will be czar of Russia for life.” Washington Examiner. Retrieved March 5, 2019 from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/why-vladimir-putin-will-be-czar-of-russia-for-life