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Russian ‘Patriotic’ Hackers May Have Launched Cyber Attacks Against West

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Moscow has engaged in hacking to affect the results of Western elections, but conceded that eager individuals might have launched cyber attacks amid rising tensions between the Russia and the West.

It is “theoretically possible” that “patriotic” Russians decided to take matters into their own hands in response to negative reporting on Russia by the U.S. media and other foreign outlets, Putin said Thursday in a meeting with senior editors of leading international news agencies.

“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” he 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 rejected the idea that such attacks could have changed the outcomes of elections, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Associated Press reported Thursday. The Russian leader said he was “deeply convinced” that public opinion in Western societies was too hard to manipulate through a coordinated cyber campaign.

“No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America,” he added.

U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Russia of hacking into Democratic Party emails during the presidential campaign, leading to the release of information embarrassing to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and, as a result, aiding President Donald Trump’s election win. In France, aides for newly elected President Emmanuel Macron said in February that Russian groups were interfering with his campaign. Moscow has strongly denied all allegations of election meddling in both cases.

Putin said Thursday the hacking accusations are an example of “Russo-phobic hysteria” among Western governments. His dismissal echoed previous complaints from Kremlin officials that the U.S. “obsession” with Russia is preventing any productive diplomacy between Washington and Moscow in the early months of Trump’s presidency. (RELATED: Democratic ‘Obsession’ With Russia Collusion Damaging Foreign Relations)

The Russian president held out hope that “counterproductive and harmful” U.S.-Russia relations would improve, largely due to the efforts of Trump administration. Putin praised Trump as a leader who sees the bilateral relationship with a “fresh set of eyes.”

As for U.S. sanctions placed on Russia for alleged election interference and Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, Putin claimed they are having “zero effect” on the Russian economy. The Trump administration has said it will maintain the sanctions while it engages with Russia on other issues such as ending the war in Syria and counterterrorism operations.

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