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Russia’s recent hacking attacks on the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the party’s fundraising committee for candidates for the US House of Representatives reflect Moscow’s view that it is in a state of political war with the United States, if not the West. Efforts to take down Western political institutions are hardly a new phenomenon. Moscow has previously sought to take down the Viktor Yushchenko government in Ukraine, the governments in Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Kyrgyzstan, and used cyberattacks to penetrate the Bundestag, the Pentagon, and other foreign political institutions. Nevertheless, the brazen quality of this most recent episode reflects Russia’s heightened aggressiveness and confirms Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s observation that Russian cyber threats are the most dangerous ones we face.
But the real issue is not whether Donald Trump is a Manchurian candidate. Rather it is that Russian President Vladimir Putin is playing for keeps. These new revelations represent the latest examples of his global efforts to interfere with, discredit, and corrupt the integrity of governments and democratic institutions everywhere. Moreover, the Russians apparently wanted to get caught. And they had a reason for doing so.
Such swaggering behavior typifies the Putin era. Putin has acted in ways that attempt to show that he can do anything he wants with impunity at home or abroad. This is part of both his personal makeup and the long-standing Russian foreign policy behavior of projecting fear abroad that Russia is seemingly invincible.
Moreover, the recent hacks suggest an organized plan to strike back at the United States, which Putin believes is doing similar things to him, disrupt the integrity of the US elections, portray Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in the worst possible light, and obtain intelligence that could be used to blackmail or compromise American politicians. This much is clear.