Why Did Putin Do It?
It is common knowledge that the Russian government attempted to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The success of that interference is, and may always be, up for debate.
The same can be said for understanding the true nature of their motivations behind these actions.
On January 6, 2017, The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a declassified report, assessing Russian activities and intentions in the most recent U.S. presidential election.
The twenty-three page report, created in union by The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), makes several, high confidence claims about Russia’s – and the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin’s – motivations and intentions behind their actions.
These actions, as identified by the report, include cyber espionage, the leaking of data collected by Russian Intelligence, interference in state and local electoral boards, and Russian propaganda efforts.
The goals behind these actions were also laid out in the report.
“Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency,” the report reads. “We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
But while understanding these actions is important and necessary, maybe even more important, is to understand the motivations behind them.
“The motivation, if we can guess it, was just to disrupt, and to create doubts, and weaken the integrity of the process,” William Wohlforth, a Dartmouth professor who studies, among other areas, international relations and Russian foreign policy said in an interview with RISE NEWS.
Robert Jervis, the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University, takes a similar view.
“It was a general attempt to discredit American democracy here and abroad,” Jervis said in an interview.
These attempts are not necessarily unusual – during the Cold War, the Soviet Union engaged in similar “active measures.”
In fact, the tactics used in 2016 are eerily similar to those used throughout much of the Cold War – primarily, the spreading of false information in an attempt to delegitimize or scandalize a perceived political opponent.
Mark Kramer recently wrote about this history on WBUR’s Cognoscenti website:
“[The KGB’s] Service A, formed in the 1950s, almost immediately set to work spreading disinformation, producing forgeries, transmitting propaganda, and disrupting U.S. and Western public diplomacy.”
Some of the misinformation spread by the KGB includes rumors that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was a “gay transvestite” and that Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon B. Johnson were colluding to continue black suppression.
During the Cold War- now seen as a more conventional battle between capitalism and communism, all behaviors stemmed from a fairly defined ideological starting point.
But in a post-Cold War era, these ideologies have become less defined, leaving the motivations behind these active measures more mysterious.
“Now, all bets are off, they don’t need to be particularly consistent with any political ideology,” Wohlforth said. “As long as it has the potential to weaken the cohesiveness of the block of states that they perceive to be against them.”
One of the more popular speculations is that Putin saw interference in the U.S. election as payback.
Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the United States was secretly active in orchestrating the Color Revolutions of the early 2000s – a set of revolutions and protests in former Soviet republics.
Putin believes that the U.S. interfered so as to create a new geopolitical order.
Putin may also view his active measures as payback for his belief that the U.S. – and Secretary Clinton – was behind the massive protests in Moscow over his election in December 2011.
In 2014, Putin likened protests in his own country to the Color Revolutions.
“In the modern world, extremism is being used as a geopolitical instrument and for remaking spheres of influence,” Putin said in 2014. “We see what tragic consequences the wave of so-called color revolutions led to.”
By interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Putin attempted to ruin the chances of victory for his perceived nemesis, Secretary Clinton, while also attempting to avoid any chance that he may have to interact with her as President of the U.S.
Also a popular speculation about Russia’s motivation is that Putin was actively hoping to change the outcome of the election – although there is little to no evidence to support this claim.
“I suspect that by some time in the fall that was one of the objectives,” Jervis said. “But the evidence for that is much weaker.”
When polls began to show Clinton as weaker than conventionally believed, Moscow may have seen an opportunity to test the ability of their active measures.
What is interesting about this possible motivation is that there is little evidence to suggest that any time Soviet/Russian active measures favored a candidate, the candidate ended up favoring the Kremlin.
In 1968, the Soviet Union was worried that if Richard Nixon won the presidential election, Soviet-U.S. relations would suffer even more than if the Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey won.
Instead, Nixon acted somewhat favorably towards the Soviet state after being elected.
“The candidate that they often seek to undermine may not be so bad for Russian relations,” Wohlforth said.
The opposite can be said as well – it may have been easier for Secretary Clinton to act more favorably towards Russia than President Trump, who has received a mass of scrutiny for even just speaking favorably about Putin or Russia.
The true motivations behind Russia’s most recent active measures may never be known – needless to say, it is impossible to get inside the head of Putin.
Russia’s current posture towards the United States is not new – and the medium through which they acted is – and in truth, this behavior is not limited to Russia.
These actions are unlikely to stop anytime soon.
America is under siege.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.
Cover Photo Credit: michael kooiman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)