Vladimir Putin had had bad blood for years with Donald Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, and the Russian President appeared eager to get even with her in the 2016 US presidential election for orchestrating protests to topple him
In October 2017, three advisers to President Donald Trump’s campaign were charged following a probe into the Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election. The New York Times called the development ‘the most explicit evidence to date’ that the campaign was ‘eager to coordinate with the Russian government to damage his rival, Hillary Clinton.’
It emerged that Russian intelligence services used intermediaries to contact the Trump campaign’s former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, to gain influence. The Russians in April 2016 offered the campaign ‘dirt’ on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, the Times reported.
Papadopoulos and two others were charged nine months after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence noted in January 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘ordered an influence the campaign’ in 2016 to damage Clinton’s ‘electability and potential presidency.’ The note added that Putin and Russia ‘developed a clear preference’ for Trump.
Putin appeared eager to get even with Clinton whom he had had bad blood with for years. On the 2008 campaign trail, Clinton rubbed Putin the wrong way by referring to the Russian president’s past as a Soviet KGB intelligence agent. ‘By definition, he [Putin] does not have a soul,’ she said.
Putin brushed aside her remark saying that statesmen should not be ‘guided by their hearts, they should use their heads.’ But Clinton continued attacking Putin. She called him a ‘very arrogant person to deal with’’ and underlined the need to ‘stand up to his bullying’.
The Putin-Clinton relationship became frostier in 2011 as pro-democracy protests swept the Arab world. The protests known as Arab Spring ousted entrenched dictators such as Hosni Mubarak from power.
In Russia, slogans such as ‘Putin, get out of here’ rend the air soon. Tens of thousands took to the streets in the biggest protest in Moscow in two decades.
Clinton rubbed it in after Putin announced he would run for president for the third time as the protests escalated. ‘The Russian people like people everywhere deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted,’ said Clinton.
She expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the conduct of the Russian parliamentary elections and growing restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights.
Putin is believed to have seen this as an attempt to topple him. He blamed Clinton for inciting the protests against him; a grudge many linked to the hacking scandal that rocked her 2016 US presidential campaign.
Over 1,900 e-mails were leaked after Russian hackers allegedly hacked the email accounts of Clinton’s colleagues in the middle of her tight race for the presidency with Trump. Clinton blamed Putin for contributing to her defeat through Russian hackers’ intrusions into her Democratic Party leaders’ emails.
Trump did little to allay fears over this and fuelled suspicions that Putin held some sway over him with his rash decisions. He fired Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James B Comey while the agency was leading a probe into the collusion of Trump’s campaign with Russia.
Trump grudgingly fired national security adviser (NSA) Michael Flynn for misleading vice president Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US. Flynn refused to turn over documents pertaining to the investigation of Russian interference in the election. Trump earlier allegedly asked Comey to end the investigation against the former NSA.
The Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election accelerated fears about Putin’s attempts to restore his country’s status in the world by destroying American democracy by rigging the election and reshaping the world order. Putin’s past as a KGB agent gives credence to these apprehensions.
Putin felt a sense of humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet Union he deeply loved. He called the breakup the ‘greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century’ that traumatized and changed him.