Chicago Tribune: Hacking the Democrats: What is Putin’s real motive?


By Chicago Tribune



AUG. 17, 2016 — Democrats are bracing for another wave of embarrassing disclosures unleashed by what the U.S. intelligence community asserts is a Russian-engineered hacking attack. Guccifer 2.0, the hacker (hackers?) believed to be tied to Russian intelligence, posted on Aug. 12 internal Democratic Party documents with email addresses and cellphone numbers for nearly 200 lawmakers. Guccifer also talked of plans to turn over to WikiLeaks another trove of sensitive material hacked from Democratic Party computers. “Keep following … ” the hacker said on Twitter. “Here I am! They’ll have to try much harder to block me!”

If and when new leaks are publicized, that’s sure to renew questions about what the Kremlin’s motives might be. Is Russian President Vladimir Putin, as many believe, trying to pave the way for a Donald Trump presidency that would look the other way as the Kremlin tramples through Europe? Is he getting back at Hillary Clinton for what he insists was her meddling with Russian politics in 2011 while she was secretary of state?

Kremlinology 101 tells us that Moscow’s true aims are usually heavily insulated and difficult to fish out. What is clear, however, is Putin’s penchant for meddling with the politics of other countries. Case in point: what Germany calls the Lisa Affair.

In January, Russian state-owned media put out a story about Lisa, a 13-year-old Russian-German girl in Berlin who claimed she had been gang-raped by Arab migrants. The story whipped up animosity among thousands of ethnic Russians in Germany toward Prime Minister Angela Merkel, who has held fast on her open-door policy toward migrants and asylum seekers. There was just one problem with the story — German investigators determined it was false. German officials say the Kremlin’s propaganda producers worked up the tale.

The motive? To weaken Merkel, an EU stalwart and a strong proponent for sanctioning Russian aggression in Ukraine, as she readied her party for regional elections.

Across Europe, the Kremlin has been wangling its way into politics to stoke Euroskepticism. In France, a Russian-owned bank lent Marine Le Pen’s far-right, anti-EU National Front$11 million ahead of her 2017 presidential campaign. Elsewhere, Russia has nurtured ties with ultra-nationalist organizations such as Hungary’sJobbik Party, regarded in Europe as a neo-Nazi group.

Frothing up a Euroskeptic frenzy fits with Putin’s overall aim of weakening the European Union and NATO, which he has always seen as an existential threat to Russia. If indeed the Kremlin is behind hacking into the Democratic Party, its motives aren’t nearly as clear-cut. Putin openly accused Clinton of fomenting Russian protests against the former KGB leader in the winter of 2011, during Russian parliamentary elections. The hacking of assorted Democratic email accounts or databases could be Putin’s way of firing back — or of flat-out intimidating her: See how easily I can mess with you? Or, he could be harboring visions of a Trump White House that would prove naive and pliable.

If it’s the latter, Trump should think twice about a Trump-Putin reset in U.S.-Russian relations. Maybe Trump envisions a relationship between two magnates — a brass tacks, let’s-get-down-to-business partnership built on pragmatism rather than ideals. What Trump probably doesn’t realize is that Putin’s skill set reaches far beyond the corporate boardroom: He’s an artful tactician who relies on subterfuge and no-holds-barred aggressiveness to get what he wants.

“If we could get along with Russia, wouldn’t that be a good thing, instead of a bad thing?” Trump told supporters in Pennsylvania earlier this month.

Somewhere in the recesses of the Kremlin, Putin must have been salivating.

By Chicago Tribune

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