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Putin: Russia doesn’t hack but ‘patriotic’ individuals might

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that some “patriotic” individuals may have engaged in hacking but insisted Russia as a country has never done it, and he pledged Thursday to wait out U.S. political battles to forge constructive ties with President Donald Trump.

The Russian leader lamented what he described as “Russo-phobic hysteria” in the U.S. that makes it “somewhat inconvenient to work with one another or even to talk,” adding that “someday this will have to stop.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party emails, helping Trump’s election victory, and the congressional and FBI investigations into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia have shattered Moscow’s hopes for a detente with Washington.

Speaking at a meeting with senior editors of leading international news agencies, Putin insisted that “we never engage in that at the state level.”

He alleged that some evidence pointing at Russian hackers’ participation in cyberattacks — he didn’t specify which — could have been falsified in an attempt to smear Russia.

“I can imagine that some do it deliberately, staging a chain of attacks in such a way as to cast Russia as the origin of such an attack,” Putin said. “Modern technologies allow that to be done quite easily.”

Putin added that while the Russian state has never been involved in hacking, it was “theoretically possible” that Russia-West tensions could have prompted some individuals to launch cyberattacks.

“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” he said. “The hackers are the same. They would wake up, read about something going on in interstate relations and if they feel patriotic, they may try to contribute to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia.”

At the same time, Putin argued that hackers, wherever they come from, can’t sway election outcomes because the public opinion isn’t that easy to manipulate.

“No hackers can have a radical impact on an election campaign in another country,” adding that “no information can be imprinted in voters’ minds, in the minds of a nation, and influence the final outcome and the final result. No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.”