After months of denying that any possible U.S. presidential election-related hacking attacks may have originated from Russia, President Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that "patriotic hackers" in Russia may have meddled in last year's presidential election. However, he maintained his earlier stance that none of the hacking-related activities were state-backed, reports said.
At the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on Thursday, in response to reporters, Putin compared hackers with artists. When asked about possibilities over Russian hackers interfering in the upcoming Germany elections, Putin did not rule out the possibility of attacks on voters outside the country. He said that hackers "are like artists" who choose their targets at their will. However, he said that any such attack would not affect election results in Europe, the U.S. or anywhere else, the New York Times reported.
Putin believes that these hackers are creative individuals. "If they woke up today, read that there is something happening in interstate relations,” that prompts them to take action, he said. “If they are patriotic, they start contributing, as they see it, in the fight against those who do not speak well about Russia."
In March, the American Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr had reportedly warned of Russia being actively involved in the French and German elections. “What … was a very covert effort [to interfere] in 2016 in the United States, is a very overt effort, as well as covert, in Germany and France...The Russians are actively involved in the French elections.”
The comments made by Putin on Thursday that Russia did not conduct cyber attacks "on the state level" in the U.S. election and that individual freelance Russian hackers were likely at play, sounded similar to what he said in 2014. That time, Putin had first denied the presence of Russian troops in Crimea, according to reports.
However, months after annexation of Crimea, Russia admitted to have sent troops into the Black Sea peninsula to protect Russian interests.
The Russian hacking and possible interaction between Russian officials and members of Trump's inner circle have been an issue of concern for the current administration since months.
The question of Russian hackers meddling with the U.S. election was publicly announced by the U.S. government last year. At that time, the government said it was "confident" Moscow designed the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations of the Democratic Party in the months before the election, reports said.
In May, the U.S. Justice Department appointed a special counsel led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head the federal investigation into Russian interference in the election.
After Mueller's appointment, Trump said in a statement: "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly. In the meantime, I will never stop fighting for the people and the issues that matter most to the future of our country."