Putin pushes back against anti-Russia rhetoric in US campaigns

The Russian president criticized US presidential candidates for playing the 'anti-Russia card' in their campaigns.

Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik Kremlin Pool/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an interview with Bloomberg in Vladivostok, Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin dismissed suspicions that his government was responsible for information breaches that saw tens of thousands of files belonging to the Democratic National Committee leaked to the public, and criticized US presidential candidates from both major parties for using “shock tactics,” in an interview on Thursday.

The leaking of the DNC’s files, said President Putin, had been a service to the public. 

"There’s no need to distract the public's attention from the essence of the problem by raising some minor issues connected with the search for who did it," he told Bloomberg. "But I want to tell you again, I don't know anything about it, and on a state level Russia has never done this." 

American authorities have expressed growing concern over what law-enforcement and intelligence officials believe to be efforts by Russia-sponsored hackers to destabilize public trust in this year’s elections. This week, the FBI said that voter-registration databases in Illinois and Arizona were breached by hackers with ties to the Russian state, adding to its earlier suggestion that Russia was behind the DNC hacks.

In response, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada sent a letter to the FBI asking it to investigate the extent of Russian “tampering in our presidential election,” calling it “one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War,” according to The Hill.

The breach of voter rolls has turned a spotlight on the vulnerabilities of US electoral procedures, noted The Christian Science Monitor on Thursday:

In response, the White House has ordered a classified review of the matter, and other agencies are taking measures to step up cybersecurity. The Department of Homeland Security has offered states assistance with securing voting processes, according to StateScoop, and the US Election Assistance Commission, which helps states facilitate voting, is also set to discuss cybersecurity procedures with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in September.

But the official response is complicated by the fact that there exists no federal body tasked with overseeing the execution of election-day voting, as Politico notes. Instead, states manage their own voting processes, resulting in a national patchwork in which more than a dozen states have no plan for a post-election audit, according to Wired.

Democrats have led a push to uncover whether there have been additional Russian cyberattacks, convinced that Putin’s government hopes to tilt the elections toward Republican nominee Donald Trump, who for several years has expressed admiration for the Russian president.

On Thursday, Putin demurred at the suggestion that he might favor Mr. Trump over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he has accused of fomenting demonstrations against his rule in 2011. Both candidates, he said, had made use of “shock tactics.” And he repeated his earlier, generalized criticisms of anti-Russia rhetoric from US candidates, calling them “shortsighted.”

“If someone says that they want to work with Russia, we will welcome it. And if someone … wants to get rid of us, there will be a completely different approach,” he said.

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