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Putin calls for pact with US to avoid ‘digital sphere’ election confrontations

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
September 26, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a new deal with the United States to ensure neither country engages in cybermeddling in each other’s elections.

In a statement ahead of the U.S. presidential election on November 3, Putin called on September 25 for a reset between Russia and the United States, adding that he wanted an agreement between the two countries to prevent incidents in cyberspace.

Putin’s offer comes amid recent reports suggesting that Moscow may already be trying to interfere in the upcoming U.S. vote.

And, it wouldn’t be the first time.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election with the aim of helping Donald Trump, including by hacking into the campaign of his rival Hillary Clinton. Moscow denies that charge.

Trump is currently campaigning for reelection against Democrat Joe Biden, and Russia has denied it is attempting to interfere in the campaign, despite evidence to the contrary.

“One of the main strategic challenges of our time is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital sphere,” Putin said in the Kremlin statement.

“We would like to once again appeal to the United States with a proposal to approve a comprehensive program of practical measures to reset our relations in the use of information and communication technologies (ICT),” the Kremlin said.

Facebook said on September 24 that it had dismantled three networks of fake accounts which could be used by Russia’s intelligence services to leak hacked documents to disrupt the upcoming U.S. election.

The social-media company said the accounts, which it suspended for using fake identities and other types of “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” were linked to Russian intelligence and people associated with a St. Petersburg-based organisation accused by U.S. officials of working to sway the 2016 presidential vote.

Microsoft said two weeks ago that hackers linked to Russia, China, and Iran were trying to spy on people tied to both Trump and Biden. Russia and China dismissed the allegations.

Reuters reported on September 9 that Microsoft had alerted one of Biden’s main election-campaign advisory firms that it had been targeted by suspected Russian state-backed hackers. The Kremlin called the report “nonsense”.