June 2 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said private Russian hackers not backed by the government may have staged cyberattacks of the U.S. presidential election.
While insisting that the Russian government had no involvement in the 2016 election, Putin suggested that free-spirited Russians hackers, behaving more like artists than espionage agents, could have broken into the Democratic National Committee computers. The admission is a reversal of Putin’s prior position, that of complete denial of a Russian connection to the hacking that some Democrats blame for the loss of the election.
Speaking Thursday in an interview at the opening of an economic conference in St. Petersburg, Putin said hackers, “if they are patriotic, they start contributing, as they see it, in the fight against those who do not speak well about Russia.”
While making it clear that Russian freelancers, and not state-sponsored computer experts, may have meddled to the detriment of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, the comments have a pattern similar to that of Russia’s explanation of its involvement in Crimea in 2014 and in Syria in 2015. The Kremlin initially denied presence in those countries but after evidence of military presence became overwhelming, the government said Russian troops were there vacationing or as humanitarian workers.
Putin also dismissed reports of Russian collusion with the administration of President Donald Trump as “fake news,” blaming an “anti-Russian” media campaign meant to deny Russia a position as a global power.