Speaking from St. Petersburg, Vladimir Putin acknowledged Thursday for the first time that Russian hackers might indeed have been behind computer attacks against the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, as well as the leaking of documents intended to harm Clinton and help Donald Trump.
“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting a painting,” Putin told reporters. “Likewise, hackers get up in the morning and read the news about what’s happening in international affairs. If they feel patriotic, they try to make what they see as a fair contribution to the struggle against those who speak ill of Russia.”
That’s interesting on several accounts:
1.) Putin’s statement — after months of total denial — amounts to a de facto admission of strong evidence that links the hacking and leaking back to Russian sources. Putin’s fallback argument is now that the hackers were private individuals, acting on their own, rather than state actors employed, encouraged or trained by the government. U.S. intelligence agencies very strongly disagree.
2.) They disagree in part because Russian hackers, like Russian artists, are NOT “free people,” as Putin puts it. In Russia, for example, you can be tossed in jail for creating, distributing or displaying the image posted below, listed as “Image 4,071” among banned “extremist” images in Russia. So the idea that Russian hackers have the “artistic freedom” to launch organized, sustained attacks against overseas political targets of their choosing, without oversight and permission of the government, is, as the Russians themselves would say, fantastika.
3.) According to Putin, Russian hackers attempting to harm Clinton and help Trump would have been acting out of patriotic fervor and love for Russia. In short, helping Trump was, and is, perceived by Putin as a way of helping Russia. I can’t think of a better source for confirmation.