For Russia, US election meddling claims strip Trump win of lustre | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 12, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 12, 2017

For Russia, US election meddling claims strip Trump win of lustre

The Kremlin says US intelligence agency allegations it ran an influence campaign to help President-elect Donald Trump win the White House are false. But if US spies are right, Moscow may wish it hadn't bothered to meddle in the first place.

The belief, widely held in the West, that the Kremlin helped discredit Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by orchestrating embarrassing media leaks, has relegated US-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low and stoked fears Russia will try to subvert French and German elections this year.

And true or not, the bipartisan view that Russia tried to help Trump, supported by a classified US intelligence report, may make it harder, not easier, for Trump to make common cause with President Vladimir Putin, something both men say they want.

In the latest wrinkle, US officials said on Tuesday that Trump has been presented with claims that Russia had compromising information about him. The accusations are uncorroborated and denied by the Kremlin.

"There was initial delight in Russia when Trump won and there was more delight after Trump picked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state," said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director at the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies.

"There is significantly less delight now."

Former Exxon-Mobil CEO Tillerson, Trump's pick for America's top diplomat, is seen as a friend of Russia. His firm has been thwarted from carrying out a huge project in the Russian Arctic by economic sanctions imposed by the outgoing Obama administration to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

Makarkin said Trump and his circle would now be accused of being Kremlin stooges every time they pushed for detente with Russia, with senior Republicans likely to warn that any rapprochement would hand political capital to the Democrats.

Putin, who has repeatedly praised Trump's political skills, is hoping his incoming US counterpart will ease or annul the sanctions, stay out of Russia's domestic affairs, and maybe even team up with the Kremlin in the Middle East.

But the furore over hacking and allegations of wider Russian interference have triggered pressure from Democrats and Trump's fellow Republicans in Congress for tougher, not weaker, anti-Russian measures.

That has amplified Congressional calls for an independent bipartisan investigation into Russian dirty tricks and prompted President Barack Obama to expel 35 suspected Russian spies, denting early Russian optimism about a Trump presidency.

When the announcement that Trump had won the Nov. 8 presidential election was made in Russia's parliament by Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin's foreign minister, lawmakers erupted in applause. In Moscow, Clinton was widely seen as being anti-Russian.

Two months later, the mood has soured.

"The new hacking allegations against Russia are clearly timed to coincide with the handover of power in the United States," Alexei Pushkov, a senator who sits on the upper house of parliament's defence and security committee, said.

"The aim is to force Trump into enmity with Russia."

Victoria Zhuravleva, an expert on US-Russia relations who writes analytical papers for the government, said the current mood in the United States meant Trump would struggle to improve relations with Moscow even if he wanted to.

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