Government agencies and private security firms now near universally agree that Russia is indeed the culprit behind the recent hacking breaches into election databases and the DNC’s e-mail servers. Amidst a presidential election wrapped up in hysteria, where perception is all that really seems to matter anymore, it makes sense foreign players would attempt to inject themselves into an election pivotal to not just the future of the United States, but that of the world.
That’s where any consensus on the topic ends. What no one can agree on beyond that Russia is the responsible party is why they did it. Hillary’s camp argues that Putin has an interest in the least viable candidate winning, so that’s why Russia would dump a trove of e-mails meant to tarnish the Democrats, hence enhancing the chances of the Republicans and Trump prevailing, with the implication of course being that she is the superior candidate for America, and that Trump is in Putin’s pocket.
It goes without saying that Trump vehemently denies these claims.
Trump’s counterargument is that all of this is just a ploy to slander him, and he has repeatedly stated that he, “Doesn’t even know Putin.”
The irony of all this is that they’re both wrong, and in their arguing play right into Russia’s true hand: to further polarize an already very divided country. Russia has long had a policy of this sort of meddling.
Active measures is the the name of this philosophy of influencing media and other such things to break a country from within, as opposed to breaking it from outside (i.e. the force of politics, versus the politics of force). Active measures is the “heart and soul” of Russian intelligence as their own spooks have put it, and so it comes as no surprise we would see a resurgence of this sort of manipulation in an election characterized by the immense echo and amplification chamber that the media has become in the era of the Internet.
The added dimension of a foreign actor blatantly influencing the presidential election further obfuscates an already complicated process that has proven itself very volatile this cycle. As it stands now, with Trump stating that he will prosecute and jail Hillary if he wins the election, and ominously threatening darker actions if he loses it, and Hillary likening him to a fascist and worse things yet, we precariously stand on the brink of much greater turmoil. This is exactly what Russia’s government wants. There’s an argument to be made that almost nothing would please Putin more than to see the United States collapse. He has stated that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century, and it’s quite clear with his recent maneuverings into Crimea and other acts of international aggression that his highest aim is to bring Russia back to the status of hegemony, displacing the United States from global power as much as possible in the process.
If theoretically Russia could foment enough tension in this election to bring us to a tipping point, where violence breaking out across the electorate and the general populace becomes prevalent, this would at the very least mean the U.S. would have to shift its focus inwards, away from the global stage, leaving it ripe to for Russia to shift the global balance of power towards itself.
So while both sides use the hacking incidents to lambaste the other, all they achieve is more divisiveness, and this is exactly what Russia aims to accomplish.