The United States and Russia are two super powers, making it impossible for one power to stay totally indifferent while the other is conducting its elections. One power is interested in predicting as closely as possible which candidate is more likely to win, being aware of their perspectives about the world, what role they think their country should play, and of course how the new administration will affect the relationship between the two powers. However, even if in past elections each side showed curiosity in the election process of the other, it has never been as visible and as publicized as in the 2016 American Presidential election.
This is not the only time that both the United States and Soviet Union reached their maximum military potential. For example, in the 1980 American presidential election, the Soviets avoided making any positive remarks on behalf of the Democratic Party because of its position towards the Soviet Union. Carter, being the architect of the USA policy towards the USSR, maintained a harsher rhetoric towards democrats and, at the same time, loosened his rhetoric towards Governor Reagan.
In 1984, after dealing with Reagan’s administration for four years and seeing no change in his position towards the USSR and in America’s role in the world, Soviet propaganda developed an obvious preference for the democrats. At that time, Moscow would have rather dealt with the new administration (democrats), though uncertain about its actual policies, than carry on with the present one.
Moreover, going back to the 2016 presidential elections we started asking ourselves one question:
Was it worth it to interfere in one of America’s most valuable political processes, knowing that sooner or later the investigations would lead to the Kremlin’s door, creating a risk of yet another set of sanctions against Russia?
But first, let’s see what could motivate the Kremlin to take such steps:
First of all, it’s well-known that the sanctions still keep the Kremlin awake at night. As long as Russia is under American sanctions, it cannot be indifferent towards American political changes. With the new republican administration, Russians hoped that some kind of deal to lift the sanctions, even if only partially, could be made. The same cannot be said if H. Clinton would have won the elections. Her rhetoric towards Russia was common knowledge during the election campaign, in this situation even a new unpredictable administration is better than the old one.
Secondly, but with no less importance, was Hillary’s own candidacy in the last election. It is good to remember that in 2011, the Kremlin directly blamed the State Department and Hillary Clinton for the Bolotnaya Square protests. These were a set of protests in which hundreds of thousands of Russians gathered on the street to protest against the 2011 election result. But the Kremlin still believes and blames the State Department for being behind the protests. After all, the Kremlin in no way would want to deal with a Clinton administration, where most of Obama’s policies towards Russia would continue.
Trump’s electoral program plays no less of a role. From Trump’s speeches the public could conclude that he will take a more nationalistic and isolationistic approach to governance. He would focus more on internal problems like jobs, infrastructure, and borders, not global issues. This gives Russia more space on the international arena to extend its sphere of influence. Of course, for the Kremlin, who at this moment is trying to extend the sphere of influence, the kind of administration Trump is promising would be seen as a unique historical opportunity.
In addition, this none the least was an act attempting to prove Russia’s strength. The Kremlin could predict that this kind of action would become public and eventually create a problem for themselves. It’s a way of showing that Russia is back on stage as a global power and can take such challenges as to even interfere in the elections of such a traditional democracy as the United States.
America is a democracy with a history of more than 200 years. Every four years Americans participate in an electoral process in which they choose who will run their government. They truly believe in this process. Elections are one of the most important political values of American democracy. Attacking the credibility of this process, disregarding the possibility of consequences to follow, was nothing more than a political adventure.
By interfering in the American elections, the Kremlin made a political mistake from at least 3 perspectives:
In trying to minimize Hillary’s chances to win the election by revealing to the public a series of hacked emails, the Kremlin put Trump’s own situation in jeopardy. After a series of layoffs and scandals around Trump’s senior adviser’s contact with Kremlin officials, the media portrayed Trump as the Kremlin’s candidate. This situation forces Trump into the position of having to demonstrate the opposite. Also we would notice that after winning the election, Trump surrounded himself with advisers that looked at Russia even more skeptically than some of former president Obama’s advisers had-- the attack on the Syrian airbase and calling Bashar al Assad “an animal”—neither of which are in Russia’s interest—are proof of that.
This interference will of course have an effect on the next elections also. The press managed to keep the topic of Russia’s interference in US elections on the front pages for more than 6 months already, and the FBI had to open its own investigation. Seeing how this interference creates more and more political turmoil, one would see how this would affect the next presidential election. The next candidates will think twice before they answer a phone call or make any contact with Russian officials. Furthermore, this situation will affect Russia’s own diplomats’ ability to do their job in the US.
As described above, the interference in the US election by the Kremlin is seen as an attack on one of the most important political values Americans uphold. It is unprofessional to think that the FBI and other such institutions would not get involved and open their own investigations. Once interference is proven, the risk of another sanction against Russia becomes more and more plausible. And this time, sanctions can be more powerful as the American political system can’t remain indifferent towards an attack on its own credibility. This is not just an interference in the 2016 election; it is an interference in the credibility of the America’s political system.
The decision of interfering in the 2016 election, which was already an emotional election, was a risky job. The WikiLeaks information that got to the public with the help of Russian hackers wasn’t at all a game changer. Moreover, the information went viral later in the campaign and most of the voters had made their decision long before that. The fact that Hilary won the popular vote is evidence of that. Had the information provided by Russians been a game changer, Hillary would have lost the popular vote by far.
As of now, the Kremlin has to deal with an administration that makes more and more policies which are not in Russia’s interest, the FBI had to open its own investigation on the case, and the anti-Russian rhetoric increases daily.
Sanctions and the Syria/Ukraine affair distanced Russia from the west and, probably in this overall situation, taking some more risks would not change too much. But as we see, Americans took this interference more seriously than the Kremlin had likely predicted. All of this interference didn’t cause anything more that sending Russia’s own interests into hardship, and sooner or later the Kremlin may come to the conclusion that the least of their worries is could be on the other side of the American political spectrum.