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Russians take little notice of U.S. election hacking accusations

MOSCOW — Explosive charges that Moscow intervened in the American presidential election to help Donald Trump win the White House may be causing upheaval in the United States, but in Russia they have had about as much impact as a snowflake striking the Kremlin.

Top officials dismiss the charges, the state-controlled media has given the story little play, and ordinary Russians are skeptical of both Washington’s claims and of their own leaders’ ability to carry out such an intelligence coup.

On social media and in everyday conversations, the story of the Kremlin’s suspected intelligence coup is a near nonevent. In a snap poll by The Washington Times, few Russians knew much, if anything, about the CIA’s claim that Russian hackers stole and published emails from the Democratic National Committee specifically to put the Republican nominee into the White House.

Even some Russians are mystified by the story’s low-key reception.

“Why is there such little interest in the CIA’s unprecedented investigation into Russia’s assistance for Trump at the elections?” Maria Snegovaya, a columnist for Russia’s Vedomosti newspaper, wrote on social media.

Even accusations by Hillary Clinton, the defeated Democratic Party nominee, that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the cyberattack as part of a “personal beef” against her have failed to provoke discussion. Mrs. Clinton said the Kremlin strongman was enraged when she raised concerns about Russia’s parliamentary elections in 2011. The elections sparked mass protests in Moscow and briefly threatened Mr. Putin’s long political dominance.

Political analysts say the lack of interest in the claims is largely a product of the way they have been covered by state television, the main source of news for most Russians. State media have called the CIA’s conclusions “hysterical” and “anti-Russian paranoia.” Other state media commentators have called them part of an internal struggle for influence among U.S. intelligence agencies.

“For most Russians, interest in events in the United States is generated by national television,” said Maria Lipman, a political analyst and editor-in-chief of the Moscow-based journal Counterpoint. “Television hasn’t focused too much on the hacking story other than to say that this is just another part of a pattern of the United States making wild allegations against Russia and blaming it for everything. In this case, most people think, ‘Well, what is there to say here?’”

Pro-Putin figures have also remained largely silent, passing up a seemingly golden opportunity to crow about Russia’s ability to shape global events. But there is a clear sense that the untested Mr. Trump can hardly be worse than the familiar Mrs. Clinton when it comes to changing the dynamic of the bilateral relationship. More than two-thirds of respondents to an online poll by the website Russia Behind The Headlines (rbth.com) predicted that relations with Washington would “radically” or “slightly” improve under President Trump.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last week in a nationally televised year-end review with local journalists that the lack of ties between the traditional Washington foreign policy establishment and Mr. Trump and his emerging team could be a positive sign.

“Americans now have as their leader a person who has not spent a single day in politics,” he said. “The main thing is that these people are devoid of inborn anti-Russian stereotypes. These people are starting everything from scratch, which is not a bad thing.”

Tillerson’s ties

That trend continued even after Mr. Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state on Dec. 13. Mr. Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, has met Mr. Putin on numerous occasions during almost two decades of doing business in Russia. He was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Russian leader in 2013.

Mr. Tillerson also has warm relations with Igor Sechin, a hard-line official who is believed to have been part of a small group of Kremlin insiders who plotted Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The head of the state-owned oil giant, Rosneft, Mr. Sechin has said he would like to “ride the roads in the United States on motorcycles” with Mr. Tillerson. The Texan oilman has called Mr. Sechin “my friend.”

The official government reaction to Mr. Tillerson’s selection was friendly but low-key. Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told the Agence France-Presse news service that Mr. Putin and other top Russian officials enjoyed “good, businesslike relations” with the Exxon Mobil chief, who is “known to everyone” in the top ranks of the Russian government.

But asked if Mr. Trump’s choice for secretary of state could improve bilateral ties, Mr. Ushakov was more noncommittal.

“We want to get out of the crisis state [of our relations], which does not satisfy neither the Russian nor the American side,” he said.

For many Russians, there is deep skepticism about the U.S. intelligence claims, reflecting years of rising propaganda claims on both sides of the relationship.

“People are convinced that you can’t believe anything from Washington,” said Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst. “It’s just lies upon lies. Everyone understands this.”

Russian officials have also been dismissive.

“It’s time to either stop talking about [these claims] or present some evidence. Otherwise, it looks unseemly,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman. Mr. Peskov also called the accusations “amusing nonsense.”

Ordinary Russians also voiced skepticism that their country had the resources to carry out such an effective operation.

“I’m not convinced our hackers are so powerful as to influence the outcome of the result of the U.S. election,” said Alexei Blokhin, a computer programmer in Moscow.

There is also one other possibility why Russians aren’t following developments.

“The story has also become truly confusing, even for those Russians who follow international news and read in English,” said Ms. Lipman, the political analyst. “Sometimes, it is really hard to understand exactly what’s happening.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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