RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Russia denies that it is meddling in the U.S. presidential election, despite allegations that the Kremlin is behind a scheme to leak hacked information that could damage Hillary Clinton. NPR's Corey Flintoff has this look at what Russia might hope to gain from influencing the American vote.
COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Last month, when WikiLeaks published 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, cybersecurity experts quickly said that the hack bore a Russian fingerprint. Mark Galeotti follows cybercrime for the Institute of International Relations in Prague. He says worldwide research points in the Russians' direction.
MARK GALEOTTI: When cases like this crop up, you have literally thousands of people who, in their own time, will seek to follow the breadcrumbs. And essentially, it has all proven consistent with the idea that this is a Russian hack.
FLINTOFF: Investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov wrote a book called "The Red Web." He says the hack wasn't necessarily the work of Russian intelligence services.
ANDREI SOLDATOV: It's much more complicated than that. We have non-government actors, and they're really adventurous, really fast, and they're really, really good.
FLINTOFF: He says mercenary hackers give the government a way to deny involvement. Once the material had been stolen, though, Mark Galeotti thinks the Kremlin took over.
GALEOTTI: The actual leak, the point where they did something with the information they gathered, now, there's no question that that would be regarded as a strategic move and would need to have had Kremlin sanction.
FLINTOFF: Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, repeated this week that Russia doesn't interfere in the affairs of other countries.
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SERGEI LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).
FLINTOFF: "Recently," Lavrov said, "we've witnessed a volley of Russophobic hysteria." He called the accusations ploys to support one candidate and smear another. DNC staffers charged that the publication of the emails was a Russian ploy to support the candidacy of Donald Trump. Andrei Soldatov disagrees.
SOLDATOV: I think it's not about Trump. It's all about Hillary Clinton.
FLINTOFF: Soldatov says President Putin believes Clinton is a Russia-hater who was behind the anti-government demonstrations in Russia in 2011 and 2012. And, Soldatov says, this U.S. election is important for Moscow because America's next leader could determine whether economic sanctions against Russia will be lifted.
SOLDATOV: And everybody in the Kremlin believe that if Hillary Clinton in the White House, it will be absolutely impossible to get the sanctions against Russia lifted. So in a way, it's a question of national security for Russia.
FLINTOFF: Galeotti thinks the key purpose of the DNC leaks is to divide Clinton's political base by showing that top party officials worked to freeze out her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders. The Kremlin's idea, he says, is to create the impression that politics in the U.S. is just as manipulated as in Russia.
GALEOTTI: What they've been trying to do is build a kind of propaganda campaign, not so much intended to win it allies and friends, but to always give the impression that everyone is just as bad.
FLINTOFF: By casting doubt on Clinton's legitimacy, he says, the Kremlin hopes to weaken her so that even if she is elected, she may be less effective as a geopolitical opponent. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.
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