Russiagate, Revisited

Vladimir Putin
According to everyone I’ve spoken to, the Russian efforts this time around aren’t terribly impressive—or effective. Photo: Alexey Druzhinin/Ria Novosti/AFP/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
June 18, 2024

Back in 2016, the Kremlin had a golden opportunity. Faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton, a Russia hawk whom they loathed, and a gullible businessman who was new to politics and completely enamored of Vladimir Putin, they picked the latter. Evgeny Prigozhin’s troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, swung into action, creating fake social media accounts and stories and buying ads on Facebook. More importantly, the Russian security agencies, the G.R.U. and F.S.B., hacked the D.N.C. and Clinton campaign chief John Podesta’s emails and leaked the information at maximally damaging moments (right before the Democratic convention and just ahead of the election, respectively). The result was chaos within the Democratic Party, an electorate that swung just enough toward Donald Trump for it to count, and the scandal that became known as Russiagate.

After writing last week about whom the Kremlin prefers in the White House this time around, I wondered: How do things look on the ground now, eight years later? Is Moscow waging the same kind of online guerilla influence operation in favor of Trump that they did in 2016? What has changed, and what hasn’t? Are the same players involved, and are Americans any more savvy to their tricks than we were eight years ago?