If you’re even asking if Russia hacked the election, Russia got what it wanted

Why would Russian agencies want to undermine U.S. elections in the first place? The answer begins with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s survival instinct. As Yale historian Timothy Snyder writes, Putin has tried to weaken democracy and civil society around the world to make Russian authoritarianism more appealing in comparison.

That’s why funds have supported European far-right parties. As scholar Alina Polyakova argues, such strategies present a win-win for Russia. If Russia’s favored candidates triumph, then its influence grows. (That is why great powers intervene in other countries’ elections in the first place.) If they lose, then the targeted country’s institutions have nevertheless been weakened, reducing opposition to Russia.

A similar logic could explain Russia’s calculations in the U.S. elections. As someone who expressed admiration for Putin, Donald Trump probably seemed better disposed to Russia than Clinton did. If Trump had lost, Clinton’s administration would have been weakened by doubts about her victory’s legitimacy, just as her campaign was dogged by false charges that it had stolen the Democratic nomination.

The big question is what effects such meddling could have. There are two reasons to think that Putin’s gambit might backfire.