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Former KGB Agents On What They Think Happened With Russia In The 2016 Election

The U.S. intelligence community believes there was direct Russian interference in the 2016 election; the Kremlin steadfastly denies it. Two former KGB agents tell NPR what they think really happened.


There’s been talk that President Trump might meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow. Both leaders will be attending an international summit in Vietnam. U.S. officials are not confirming the meeting. They say they are not sure the two leaders have sufficient substance to talk about.


Any discussions between the two would be closely watched back in Washington, where investigations continue into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As more details have come out about what Russia did and who was involved, the Kremlin’s stance has remained the same. It insists Russian intelligence agencies were not involved. So NPR’s Moscow correspondent, Lucian Kim, tracked down two former KGB officers to get their take on what was really going on.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: In a dark, vaulted office in an old Moscow manor house, I find Gennady Gudkov. Like President Vladimir Putin, Gudkov served in the KGB during the last years of the Soviet Union. But now Gudkov has dedicated his life to Putin’s political opposition.

GENNADY GUDKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Gudkov says Russia did attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. It was unprecedented, Gudkov says, and a dramatic change in Russian policy.

GUDKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: During the Cold War, he says, the Soviet Union did try to influence some countries in Asia or Africa, but never rival powers such as the United States or Great Britain. So what changed? Gudkov says Russia’s ruling elite is sick and tired of the personalized sanctions imposed on them after the seizure of Crimea. They were afraid, he says, that as president Hillary Clinton would have only made things worse. Of course, he says, it’s almost impossible to prove the Russian government was directly involved.

GUDKOV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He says we’re now talking about a so-called hybrid war, where groups apparently unconnected to a government do the state’s bidding. Another KGB veteran, Alexander Lebedev, looks out on Moscow from the 11th floor of his corporate headquarters. He’s a media mogul with holdings in two British newspapers. Lebedev smirks when I ask him if Russia is carrying out a hybrid war against the U.S. He says that’s the stuff of spy novelist John Le Carre.

ALEXANDER LEBEDEV: This is a John Le Carre type of invention. Hybrid war – what kind of hybrid war is that? Everybody’s carrying on exercising influence the way they can.

KIM: Lebedev says he knows all about so-called Internet trolls who create fake news. In fact, he says, he’s been targeted by them himself. But while the technology might be new, Lebedev says, Russia is only doing what all the big powers have always done.

LEBEDEV: It’s only fair to treat it as a phenomenon where all of the major countries are using all of the resources they can to influence the others to follow up their goals. So why should it be one-sided, that the Americans are always right and the Russians are always wrong?

KIM: Both the former KGB officers Lebedev and Gudkov do agree on one thing – whatever means Russia used to interfere in the U.S. election, the effect was negligible. They say Americans put Donald Trump into the White House, not the Kremlin. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.


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