Russian President Vladimir Putin is satisfied with the return on his investment in meddling with the U.S. presidential election, officials say: For less than $500,000 he undermined faith in American democratic process and neutralized his longtime adversary Hillary Clinton.
The Kremlin considers its "active measures" campaign a "resounding success," The Washington Post reports, citing U.S. officials with knowledge of intelligence from inside the Russian government. "The Kremlin believes it got a staggering return," the paper says. "The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was 'more than worth the effort.'"
During the election, Russian troll farms flooded the internet with posts intended to diminish Clinton's candidacy and stoke racial and religious tensions that would drive voters to Trump. A report by the CIA and other intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered with the goal of undermining the public's faith in the election process.
“Putin has to believe this was the most successful intelligence operation in the history of Russian or Soviet intelligence,” said Andrew Weiss, a former adviser on Russia in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations. “It has driven the American political system into a crisis that will last years.”
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It hasn't been a complete win for Putin, however: Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine is still viewed as illegitimate. Although Trump was preparing to loosen sanctions upon taking office, Congress has passed resolutions strengthening them and preventing the president from reversing that course.
For his part, Trump refuses to accept the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the election or to take action to prevent interference in future voting. In fact, the Post reports, Trump's daily intelligence update — known as the Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB — is structured to minimize information about Russia to avoid upsetting him.