Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election began before President Donald Trump even declared his candidacy, special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of Russian hackers reveals.
The Russian government had a strategic goal to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election” the indictment reads. The indictment also revealed activity pursued by the Russians to organize political rallies, building partisan social media audiences across the political spectrum, and funding political stunts.
According to Mueller, the Russian government created a sub agency known as the “translator project” which was “focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube,” adding that the strategic goal of interfering in the 2016 US election was developed all the way back in May 2014.
The stated goal within the department was to spread “distrust towards candidates at the political system in general.”
2014 was the nadir of the US-Russian relationship following President Vladimir Putin’s decision to forcibly occupy and annex Ukrainian Crimea. Putin’s decision saw widespread pushback from the US and its EU allies with devastating sanctions imposed on the Russian economy.
Former President Barack Obama signed a March 6, 2014 executive order imposing the first round of the US sanctions on Russia. The Russian decision to target the US election came two months later.