Putin Says 'Patriotic' Hackers May Have Launched Cyberattacks Against the West

Russian President Vladimir Putin has weighed in on the furor surrounding alleged Russian hacking. After multiple claims from Western officials that Russia has interfered in national elections, Putin conceded that some "patriotic" people may have been pushed to "fight against those who speak badly about Russia."

During a meeting Thursday with editors of international news agencies, Putin nevertheless rejected allegations that the Russian state had meddled in the U.S. or French elections. According to AP, the president also denied claims that Russia might try to shape the September 24 German federal election. "We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so," Putin said. He added that he has a good relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, despite her criticism of Moscow during a joint press conference early May.

Western intelligence agencies have accused Russia of disseminating fake news ahead of the U.S. and French elections in the hope of getting Donald Trump and National Front leader Marine Le Pen elected. On Wednesday, Trump's former presidential opponent, the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton told a technology conference in California that the Trump campaign had assisted the Russians in spreading disinformation against her. "[They] could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided," Clinton said.

Speaking to the editors Thursday, Putin denied that Russia engaged in hacking, but added the caveat that hacking could not have that much of an impact anyway. "I'm deeply convinced that no hackers can radically influence another country's election campaign," he said. "No hackers can influence election campaigns in any country of Europe, Asia or America."

What has had an impact, the president claimed, are the ongoing Congressional and FBI investigations into whether Trump's campaign had links to Russian officials. "I'm afraid this is one of the goals those who organize it are pursuing," Putin said. "They can fine-tune the public sentiments to their liking trying to establish an atmosphere that is going to prevent us from addressing common issues, say with regard to terrorism."

Putin went on to claim that certain people may have falsified evidence of Russian hacking. "I can imagine that some do it deliberately, staging a chain of attacks in such a way as to cast Russia as the origin of such an attack," he said. "Modern technologies allow that to be done quite easily."

Putin's messages may have seemed confusing—some Russians may have hacked; people are trying to sabotage Russia; hacking has little effect—but on one point he was clear: The Russian government is not involved with hacking, and allegations that it is are little more than fake news. Many American officials—including former CIA director John Brennan, who told House investigators in May that Russia "brazenly interfered" in the elections—would disagree.