Putin: Interfere in US elections? Moi?

Say, how does one say “banana republic” in Russian? Vladimir Putin scoffed at accusations that his government has attempted to interfere in the US presidential election as “hysteria — I can’t think of another word,” Putin told a policy conference in Sochi. Listen closely, and you’ll get that language lesson too, although Putin claims that the accusations are ridiculous because the US is not a banana republic.

Not yet, anyway. Get back to us in a couple of weeks. I kid, I kid ….

Speaking to international foreign policy experts in Sochi, Putin dismissed “the hysteria about Russia’s influence on the U.S. presidential election.”

He argued that U.S. elites have used the “mythical and fictitious” issue to distract attention from real problems such as government debt and police violence.

“Does anyone seriously think Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice?” Putin said. “Is America some kind of banana republic? America is a great power!”

Well, we’d like to think so too, but at times we wonder. Those times seem to come a lot more frequently than before, but some of this is just our quadrennial debate over the direction of the country, too. But it’s naive to think that Russia wouldn’t want to influence our elections, and wouldn’t try to do so. The question in this case would be whether Putin really needs to do so in this particular election. Americans will either elect a man who has spoken positively about Putin’s leadership and his ability to repair a broken relationship with Russia, or the woman who offered Russia a reset button to retreat from Bush administration attempts to get tough with Moscow after the invasion of Georgia. Hillary Clinton talks tough on Russia as a way to paint Donald Trump as a fool or an authoritarian (or both), but she spent four years running American foreign policy in such a manner that Putin felt emboldened to shift to expansionism. Let’s also remember that Hillary spent those four years making it very, very easy for hostile powers to access vital diplomatic data, so for Putin, this may be a wash.

CBS offers this look at US intelligence efforts to stop Russian hackers, who might wonder whether they’ll get easier opportunities over the next four years:

The hacks and interference appear to be real, but in the end, not terribly influential. Most of the damage done to Hillary’s standing was self-inflicted; her trust ratings bottomed out long before these stolen materials emerged. The impact of them has been muted by oppo research attacks on Trump, who also exacerbated the damage by insisting on dragging out the stories even longer. Those who enthusiastically support the two candidates continue to do so while ignoring negatives, and the rest appear to already be convinced that the two nominees are generally awful and will choose between them on other grounds. I’m kidding about the banana republic reference, but after this election, both parties owe their voters an explanation as to how they produced the worst of their party for the top office in the land — and their voters should reflect for a long time on the choices made.