The Washington Post this weekend reported that in a secret assessment, the CIA had concluded that the Russian government intervened in the 2016 US election to tip the odds in Donald Trump’s favour.
Intelligence agencies have concluded with ‘high confidence’ that hackers connected to the Kremlin released thousands of hacked Democratic emails through Wikileaks, while choosing not to release data hacked from Republican political networks.
“Russia’s goal here was to favour one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior US official quoted in the Washington Post, “that’s the consensus view.”
The result of the alleged hack was a steady drip-feed of email releases – more of an annoyance than a knockout blow – which nonetheless dogged Clinton through the final months of the campaign.
In the end, Trump managed to walk a narrow path to victory, with his success hinging on fewer than 150,000 voters across Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
That victory was met with applause and praise when it was announced in Russia’s parliament.
During his campaign, President-elect Trump said he would welcome closer ties to Russia, while the Kremlin praised the candidate’s foreign policy as “phenomenally close” to that of President Vladimir Putin.
Their support may already be paying dividends, with Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson reportedly the top contender for Secretary of State.
Rising through ranks of the oil and gas giant over the years, Tillerson has known Vladimir Putin personally for over two decades, and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013.
But Russia’s desire to see Donald Trump in the White House goes deeper than having friends in the right places.
For years Russia’s economy has been on the edge of financial crisis.
Trade and investment has been hampered by US-led sanctions since Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 – a blow compounded by plunging oil and gas prices, which make up a majority of the country’s exports and up to 50% of government revenue.
Russia’s deficit deepened, wages dropped, inflation shot up and the Russian ruble halved in value.
Under the Obama Administration, the US only continued to ratchet up the pressure – pushing back against Russia’s support for separatists in East Ukraine and for Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Only now is the Russian economy showing signs of recovery as it claws its way back to economic growth.
But things may be different under a Trump Presidency.
“I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly,” Trump said of the former KGB officer in July, “but there’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly, as opposed to the way they are right now, so that we can go and knock out ISIS with other people.”
Trump has also been critical of the NATO military alliance, a group established to contain the Soviet Union and which continues to counter-balance Russia in Europe.
It’s a stark departure from the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, who in 2012 named Russia as America’s number one geopolitical foe.
It now appears that Romney may have lost out on the Secretary of State position to Tillerson.
As head of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson has previously argued for sanctions on Russia to be lifted, with the trading bans costing his company hundreds of millions of dollars in nixed contracts.
For his part, Vladimir Putin has said he looks forward to improved relations with the United States under a Trump presidency.
“Mr Putin and Mr Trump not only agreed on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations, but also expressed support for active joint efforts to normalise relations,” the Russian government reported after the two spoke following Trump’s victory.
That phone call may not have gone quite so smoothly if Hillary Clinton had won the vote on November 8.
The former Secretary of State and Putin have had an antagonistic relationship, which some have pinned on events in 2011 when Secretary Clinton appeared to side with anti-Putin protestors in Russia.
“We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs,” Putin said at the time, accusing Clinton of giving a ‘signal’ to those rallying against him.
Since leaving the State Department, Clinton has compared Putin’s annexation of Crimea to Hitler’s actions in the 1930s and said the United States should pursue a stronger response.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist Russian politician allied with Vladimir Putin, warned of war if Hillary Clinton was elected.
“There will be Hiroshimas and Nagasakis everywhere,” he said.
Although that eventuality seems safely off the table, and both Putin and Trump appear hopeful for a new beginning, success is by no means guaranteed.
In March 2009, just months after taking the job of Secretary of State, an optimistic Hillary Clinton pushed a symbolic red reset button with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Both governments will be hoping it’s not a case of history repeating.
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