Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly accused Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state of interfering in Moscow’s affairs — and if Russian security was behind last week’s release through WikiLeaks of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails, it would look a lot like Kremlin payback.
American law enforcement and intelligence officials suspect that Russian military intelligence, the GRU, carried out the hack of the DNC email server, though no one has been able to suggest how the material got into the hands of WikiLeaks.
In December 2011, large protests unexpectedly broke out in Moscow following parliamentary elections that featured brazen cheating. Clinton, as secretary of state, called the election “neither free nor fair,” and Putin jumped on that as an attack on Russia and, by extension, him.
In the year that followed, some of the strongest anti-American steps that Russia took were only tangentially related to Clinton — expelling the USAID, forcing Radio Liberty off the AM dial, harassing then-U.S. Ambassador Michael A. McFaul.
And when Congress pushed through the 2012 Magnitsky Act, placing travel and banking sanctions on certain Russian officials deemed to be corrupt or human rights violators, Moscow’s furious response was a law banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans.
Yet Clinton was the face of American diplomacy. Together, her public support for anti-Putin protesters, and the American sanctions on Russian officials over the persecution and death of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower, struck directly at Putin’s greatest vulnerability — his legitimacy, as Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute for the USA and Canada Studies in Moscow, said at the time.
After she stepped down as secretary of state, she made a well-publicized visit to Yalta — in 2013, when it was still part of Ukraine — to support Ukraine’s signing of an agreement with the European Union. Putin hoped to strong-arm Ukraine into joining his Eurasian Economic Union, which Clinton had called an attempt to “re-Sovietize” areas of the former Soviet Union.
Pro-Kremlin analysts point out that when Bill Clinton was president he tried to guide Russia toward new political, legal and economic policies and largely failed. They worry that Hillary Clinton will try to pick up where he left off. Asked about her last spring, Putin said, “As we say, husband and wife are the same Satan.”
For the past few months, the Russian media have been declaring that Donald Trump would be better for Russia than Clinton, because of his seemingly hands-off approach toward Eastern Europe and his expressed desire to upend the U.S. political establishment.
Trump on Wednesday suggested at a news conference that he would be pleased if the Russians could get their hands on more of Clinton’s emails. It looked like an extraordinary invitation to Moscow to interfere in the U.S. election.