U.S. Election Interference Accusations Cause Kremlin Frustrations

Mar 6, 2020
Originally published on March 6, 2020 10:18 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are still eight months out from Election Day, but intelligence officials are already warning of Russian attempts to influence the outcome. And NPR's Lucian Kim reports that the new accusations are causing frustration in the Kremlin.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: The lead story on the TV news is a familiar one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: CBS News has learned the U.S. intelligence community believes that Vladimir Putin is at it again, trying to interfere in this year's presidential campaign.

KIM: The Kremlin's denial was also familiar, with President Putin's spokesman calling the report paranoid and baseless. He complained these allegations were appearing with maniacal persistence.

MARK GALEOTTI: There is a clear degree of genuine frustration in the Kremlin.

KIM: Mark Galeotti of University College London studies the Russian security services.

GALEOTTI: Everything is being cast as some wicked grand plan from Moscow. The truth is, of course, somewhere in between. They know full well that they are meddling in politics. But at the same time, they are also frustrated because they find themselves being cast as the ultimate Bond villain.

TATIANA STANOVAYA: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: "Putin has a dream," says political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya. "He wants to make a deal with the U.S. on how to get along in the future." And President Trump has also said he wants the U.S. and Russia to work together. Stanovaya says the Kremlin believes the problem lies with the U.S. establishment that opposes any kind of deal with Russia. And that's why Moscow prefers anti-establishment insurgents such as Trump or, more recently, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

GENNADY GUDKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB colonel, says many Russian officials sympathize with Sanders because they perceive him to be friendly towards Russia. U.S. officials have briefed Sanders on Russian attempts to give his campaign unwelcome and unsolicited help. In any case, Col. Gudkov says Russia's interference is being exaggerated.

GUDKOV: (Through interpreter) Russia's ability to interfere in the U.S. elections is limited in comparison to 2016. If there is interference right now, it's minimal and unlikely to have much of an effect.

KIM: Gudkov is a vocal critic of Putin and no friend of the Kremlin. But he says after the outcry that followed the last election, malign activity has gone down, and the U.S. is being much more vigilant. From Putin's point of view, that election had mixed results. The Kremlin never made a secret of its preference for candidate Donald Trump. But the blowback from the Russian influence campaign has resulted in sanctions, blacklists and the worst relations with the U.S. in decades. The U.S. intelligence community warns that Russia is interfering again. But Mark Galeotti says it's not clear the Kremlin is directly in charge.

GALEOTTI: The story is precisely just how minimalist Russian activities seem to be. You know, we are very much talking at the moment about essentially just trolls on social media sites, much of which probably has nothing to do with the Kremlin whatsoever.

KIM: Galeotti says so far, the Kremlin seems to be taking a hands-off approach and letting unofficial operatives meddle in the 2020 election. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.