WASHINGTON, DC – Donald Trump has officially been inaugurated as US president, but questions about Russia’s interference in the election will not go away. Yet one key question is often lost in the fray: Why did Russian President Vladimir Putin do it?
Of course, it is not difficult to guess why Putin preferred Trump to his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But there is a difference between hoping for an outcome and going to great lengths – and incurring great risks – to help bring it about. In our view, the US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that, by helping Trump, the Kremlin was advancing its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order” is not entirely convincing.
Russia’s meddling in the US election was unprecedented. Just three years ago, it would have been unimaginable: though the West’s relationship with Russia was far from ideal, and featured plenty of competition, it was also characterized by cooperation. As recently as June 2013, Putin and US President Barack Obama issued a statement that reaffirmed “their readiness to intensify bilateral cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect, equality, and genuine respect for each other’s interests.”
Everything changed in February 2014, when Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution culminated in the ousting of the Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych. That development – and Putin’s response to it – fundamentally transformed the West's relationship with Russia.