Russia on Thursday dismissed a report by Reuters that a think tank controlled by President Vladimir Putin and his office had devised a way to influence the 2016 United States presidential elections in favour of Donald Trump, Reuters reported. Three current and four former US officials told the news agency that US intelligence officials had acquired two confidential documents from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies that contain details of Russia’s efforts to sway the votes towards a more pro-Russia leader.
“Putin had the objective in mind all along, and he asked the institute to draw him a road map,” one of the former intelligence officials said. They alleged that the papers were central to the Barack Obama administration’s conclusion that Russia had launched a “fake news” campaign and had been behind cyber attacks against the Democratic Party and its candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The Moscow-based institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by the president’s office. The institute prepared two documents – one in June 2016 and the other in October, a month before the November 8 elections – and circulated them among top Russian government authorities without addressing them to anyone in particular, the seven US officials told Reuters.
The strategy paper drafted in June recommended launching a social media propaganda campaign and having the Kremlin push Russian state-backed media to urge US voters to elect a president with a softer stance towards Russia. The second document warned that as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seemed more poised to win, it would be better for Russia to focus on highlighting voter fraud in the US to malign the country’s electoral system and hurt Clinton’s reputation.
Despite a number of US intel reports concluding that Russia had, indeed, played a hand in the outcome of the US elections, Putin has maintained that his country had no part in it. Trump and his associates have repeatedly denied claims they had colluded with Russia before the elections.
However, speculation on the subject has only grown since Trump was sworn in on January 20. On March 2, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recused himself from all investigations into Russian involvement in the elections, after it was reported that as Trump’s campaign aide, he had held meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak twice in 2016. On February 14, Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had resigned after reports emerged that he had discussed the country’s sanctions with Russia.
The latest developments in the matter include the arrest of a Russian programmer in Spain over suspicions that he was involved in a number of hacking attacks linked to Moscow’s alleged interference in the US presidential elections. On April 3, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Russia was “certainly involved” in the 2016 presidential elections.