The Kremlin says U.S. intelligence agency allegations it ran an influence campaign to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House are false. But if U.S. spies are right, Moscow may wish it hadn’t bothered to meddle in the first place. The belief, widely held in the West, that the Kremlin helped discredit Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by orchestrating embarrassing media leaks, has relegated U.S.-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low and stoked fears Russia will try to subvert French and German elections this year. And true or not, the bipartisan view that Russia tried to help Trump, supported by a classified U.S. intelligence report, may make it harder, not easier, for Trump to make common cause with President Vladimir Putin, something both men say they want. In the latest wrinkle, U.S. officials said on Tuesday that Trump has been presented with claims that Russia had compromising information about him. The accusations are uncorroborated and denied by the Kremlin.
“There was initial delight in Russia when Trump won and there was more delight after Trump picked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies. “There is significantly less delight now.”
Former Exxon-Mobil CEO Tillerson, Trump’s pick for America’s top diplomat, is seen as a friend of Russia. His firm has been thwarted from carrying out a huge project in the Russian Arctic by economic sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama administration to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
Makarkin said Trump and his circle would now be accused of being Kremlin stooges every time they pushed for detente with Russia, with senior Republicans likely to warn that any rapprochement would hand political capital to the Democrats.