Russian President Vladimir Putin assured senior editors of leading international news agencies on Thursday that the Russian state has never taken part in hacking, according to the Associated Press.
“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” Putin said. “The hackers are the same, they would wake up, read about something going on in interstate relations and if they have patriotic leanings, they may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia.”
Putin offered an explanation for recent cyberattacks of apparent Russian origins, proposing that falsified digital evidence may have been used in the past to smear Moscow.
“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.”
WikiLeaks, an outlet that has been known to leak U.S. intelligence documents aligned with Russian interference interests, published a set of CIA documents alleging that the spy agency reused code found in foreign malware.
However, CyberScoop found that the CIA’s practice couldn’t have been used to create false-flag attacks.
Putin also rejected the claim that cyberattacks could have influenced the recent American presidential election.
“I’m deeply convinced that no hackers can radically influence another country’s election campaign,” Putin said. “No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America.”
He denied that Russia would ever hack a nation state. With Germany’s elections coming up in the Fall, Putin also took the opportunity on Thursday to renew his commitment to working with the European power by stating that Russia could work with any German leader, and that he has a generally good relationship with current Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel and Putin have clashed regarding policy and human rights on many occasions, most recently surrounding the reports of detention and abuse of gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya. Merkel called on Putin to “use his influence to ensure the rights of such minorities,” according to CNN.
Such pressure has not been applied to Russia on behalf of the U.S. since Trump took office, and Putin and Trump have shared rhetoric on the nature of the hacks.
U.S. intelligence officials say that the Democratic National Committee was targeted by hackers linked to Russian intelligence agencies.
Trump himself implored that Russia should hack his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 presidential campaign, and the CIA later concluded that Russia interfered to damage Clinton’s chances at winning the election.
The U.S. intelligence community found both the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee were targeted by Russian hackers, but only information gleaned from the DNC was released — the RNC was unharmed by the computer-centric attacks.
Trump’s continued outspoken support and desire for positive Russian-American relations has given Moscow hope of an amicable relationship, experts say. Putin praised Trump’s “fresh set of eyes,” garnered from being a political outsider.
While the Russian leader denied any Russian state-backed hacking, he did concede that lone-wolf, “patriotic” Russian hackers could operate alone, considering the tense relations between Russia and the West over the last few years.