The Russian cyberattacks that targeted last year’s U.S. presidential elections were as much about wanting to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House as about proving to the world that the Kremlin was capable of pulling off this feat, a leading Russian expert on cybersecurity said Monday. “Russian hackers deliberately tried to weaken positions of Hillary Clinton,” said Andrei Soldatov, author of a 2015 book on the Kremlin’s cyberwars against its critics. “She was seen as Russia’s enemy No. 1, a person who inspired Moscow protests [against President Vladimir Putin], a person who would harm Russia the most.” But Moscow may have miscalculated the fallout of its intrusion, which has so far led to resignation of a high-ranking U.S. official, congressional investigations and a bipartisan circling of the wagons around the need to protect the integrity of America’s democracy, several leading Russia experts said.
“The blowback has been very strong,” William Courtney, an adjunct senior fellow at the Rand Corp., said in an interview as the House Intelligence Committee opened hearings into allegations of Russian hacking into the 2016 presidential campaign. “The story has magnified more than the Russians expected,” Courtney said.
Traditionally, former Soviet governments were reluctant to get involved in the internal politics of America because of the risk of possible retaliation. “But Putin has been willing to do that and to take extra risks,” said Courtney, a former U.S. ambassador to Georgia and onetime presidential special assistant for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.