Putin seeks truce with US in cyberspace, still denies Russian interference
>>MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Friday proposed a truce with the United States in cyberspace, without acknowledging that his country has repeatedly used cybertechniques to attack elections from the Ukraine to the US, stolen emails from the Defense Department to the White House, and developed some of the world’s most sophisticated disinformation efforts.
Mr Putin issued a written statement outlining a four-point plan for what he called a “reboot” in the relationship between the US and Russia in the field of information security. Moscow and Washington, he wrote, should issue “guarantees of nonintervention into the internal affairs of each other, including into electoral processes.”
He urged a bilateral agreement “on preventing incidents in the information space,” modelled on Cold War-era arms control treaties.
Beyond the conciliatory language, Mr Putin’s statement offered no hint that Moscow was prepared to make any specific concessions on its greatly accelerated use of cyberweapons over the past decade — sometimes directly, sometimes through proxies. Russia continues to deny interfering in American politics, while insisting the US meddles in Russian politics by backing Kremlin opponents.
“As we have said more than once, there is no basis” for claims that Russia has meddled in American elections, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said on Friday.
President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he is tempted to believe Mr Putin’s insistence that Russia had no role in the 2016 election, although the spokesman for the National Security Council, John Ullyot, dismissed Mr Putin’s offer on Friday.
“It is hard to take such statements seriously when Russia, China, Iran and others have sought to undermine our election process,” Mr Ullyot said, following Mr Trump in suggesting the problem goes beyond Russia.
“It is possible that this offer is a further effort by Russia to create divisions in the United States,” he said.
Russia has floated similar proposals before, including when Mr Putin met with Mr Trump in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018. Mr Trump warmed to them at first, saying he would work with Russia to create “an impenetrable cybersecurity unit” designed to assure “that election hacking, and many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”
But Mr Trump’s declaration was mocked by many, including some members of the president’s own staff, who asked how the US would jointly patrol cyberspace with one of the world’s leaders in cyberespionage. Around the same time, the US was placing malware inside Russia’s electric grid and making no effort to hide it, in hopes of deterring Moscow from attacking the American grid.
It was not clear if Mr Putin was calling for the reset because of the intense focus on Russian activity around the 2020 election, or because firms like Microsoft have identified continued Russian attacks, some from groups linked to the military and Russian intelligence agencies.
This time, Mr Putin is calling for a reset less than six weeks before an American presidential election that could put an outspoken critic of the Kremlin — former Vice President Joe Biden — in the White House.