Russian hacking controversy: 'Patriotic individuals' seem to pop up conveniently for Moscow

In the wake of Donald Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, another important statement by an important world leader went unnoticed by many people.

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Thursday acknowledged that some “patriotic individuals” may have engaged in hacking. This hacking purportedly refers to the emails of the Democratic Party in the US that intelligence agencies have blamed on Russia. The hacks helped Trump’s election victory but also eventually led to investigations by the US Congress and the FBI into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. They have also dealt a heavy blow to any chances of the thawing of relations between Moscow and Washington.

Putin’s statement was immediately followed by a denial of the Russian State being involved in such hacks. He even alleged that some of the evidence pointing at Russian hackers' participation in cyberattacks — he didn't specify which — could have been falsified in an attempt to smear Russia. He further said that hackers, wherever they come from, can't sway election outcomes because the public opinion isn't that easy to manipulate.

This hasn’t stopped Russian hackers from trying anyway as even during the French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron’s aides had claimed that Russian groups were interfering with his campaign. A document leak which hit Macron's campaign in the final hours of the French race was linked to Russia as well. Moscow has strongly denied all allegations of election meddling.

File image of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

File image of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP

Be that as it may, the “patriotic elements” refrain still does have a familiar ring to it. It is certainly not the first time that an organised effort against a foreign country has taken place in a way which benefits Russia. Right before the 2014 annexation of Crimea, the internet was flooded with photographs and videos of armed men in Crimea who looked like members of the Russian military. According to a BBC report, their guns were similar to the ones used by the Russian army, their lorries had Russian number plates and they spoke in Russian accents.

Yet even at that time, Putin called them members of "self-defence groups" organised by the locals who bought all their uniforms and hardware in a shop, said the report. These people were officially not there at all. Because of this, they couldn’t be called Russian troops. The people and the media innovated and the epithets “polite men” and “little green men” entered the common parlance of Eastern Europe.

These machine gun-toting men remained largely unidentified as they patrolled the streets leisurely. They weren’t there to fight, just to show their presence according to The Telegraph. The men’s links to Russia were alleged by many media outlets and were supported by statements made by Retired Russian admiral Igor Kasatonov who said that the little green men were Russian special forces.

The armed men eventually took over the building which housed the regional parliament of Crimea. A week later, a vote was conducted on the fate of Crimea. The vote did not exactly offer an abundance of choices as the participants were offered two choices, none of which allowed the status quo (Crimea being a part of Ukraine) to remain. Unsurprisingly, the parliament voted to make Crimea a part of the Russian Federation.

The Kremlin did eventually admit that it was behind the power grab but the official Russian line while the takeover of the parliament was going on was that only locals were involved in the upheaval.

The Russian invasion was largely condemned as being in violation of International Law.

There is of course no proof that the Russian State was behind the hacks. But it would serve us well to remember that at the time, there was no evidence that the Russian State was behind the little green men either.

With inputs from AP

Updated Date: Jun 02, 2017 15:38 PM

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