Vladmir Putin has always denied that the Russian state had any involvement in hacking and releasing emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Speaking Thursday in St. Petersburg, however, he said that, oh, hey, maybe someone in Russia just might have happened to get the idea to do it on their own. From the Associated Press:
Putin added that while the Russian state has never been involved in hacking, it was “theoretically possible” that Russia-West tensions could have prompted some individuals to launch cyberattacks.
“Hackers are free people, just like artists who wake up in the morning in a good mood and start painting,” he said. “The hackers are the same, they would wake up, read about something going on in interstate relations and if they have patriotic leanings, they may try to add their contribution to the fight against those who speak badly about Russia."
Putin specifically said that Russia has "never engaged" in foreign election–related hacking "on a state level," but the public/private divide in Russia is not a particularly relevant one when it comes to international activity—every powerful actor (or hacking "artist") in the country ultimately takes orders from Putin. As the New York Times points out, the Russian autocrat also has a history of initially denying foreign interference that he ultimately takes credit for:
The evolution of Russia’s position on possible meddling in the American election is similar to the way Mr. Putin repeatedly shifted his account of Russia’s role in the 2014 annexation of Crimea and in armed rebellions in eastern Ukraine: He began by categorically denying that Russian troops had taken part before acknowledging, months later, that the Russian military was “of course” involved.