Russia expects relations with the United States to remain tense, according to one of Vladimir Putin’s spokesmen who publicly shrugged at the US midterm election results.
“There is no rosy outlook for normalizing Russian-American relations on the horizon,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters last week. “It can hardly happen that they will get more complicated. Everything is going quite complicatedly,” Peskov said. “That does not mean that we will not seek dialogue, we want dialogue.”
The Kremlin denies allegations that Russia somehow wants to influence US politics in any way. But researchers and social media companies maintain that Russia has continued its online influence campaigns to divide American opinion. And the Department of Homeland Security is taking these warnings seriously.
An official told ABC News that DHS plans to conduct a thorough investigation that aims to say for sure.
“The Director of National Intelligence will provide an assessment of any foreign interference in our elections within 45 days,” said Kellie Wade, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “This assessment will be fully coordinated within the intelligence community, and will be provided to the President and to relevant Cabinet members.”
ABC cites a top election security official at DHS as saying that the U.S. was on the lookout for the three main methods of interference:
- a hack-and-leak campaign, like the one that splashed the contents of Hillary Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails across the internet;
- probing of election infrastructure systems through cyber activity, as U.S. officials say Russia likely did to systems in all 50 states last election;
- and the online influence campaign in which a Russian troll factory purportedly set up hundreds of fake social media accounts and pretended to be Americans to stoke political divides and sow chaos online.
Experts, however, said they saw no coordinated cyber activity targeting the 2018 midterms – or at least nothing like the hack-and-leak attacks and infrastructure probing said to have occurred during the 2016 presidential election.
But John Sipher, a former spy who ran the CIA’s Russia operations, insists that just because the signs weren’t there this time, that doesn’t mean Russia won’t keep interfering with U.S. elections.
Sipher said he believes the threat to election security is not over, and it would be a grave error for the U.S. to assume otherwise, even if Russia decided to pull back during the midterms.
“Breathing a sigh of relief is a mistake,” Sipher told ABC reporters. “The Russians are really good at this stuff… and they’re going to keep doing it and others are going to learn from them.”
Sipher speculated that a more covert operation may yet be discovered. Another possibility, he said, is that Russian operatives may have abstained this time around because the midterm elections weren’t important enough to take the risk of a backlash.
“He [Vladimir Putin] realized that if he pushed it too far, he risked turning a powerful country against him… and he pretty much already accomplished all that he wanted to before [in 2016] by getting Americans to turn on each other,” Sipher said.