His remarks echoed a view advanced by Mr. Trump, who has dismissed accusations of Russian meddling and said that the person responsible for the attack on the Democratic National Committee “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
All the same, Mr. Putin stuck firmly to earlier denials that Russian state bodies or employees had been involved, an accusation leveled by United States intelligence agencies. They concluded in January that Mr. Putin himself had directed a Russian “influence campaign” involving cyber attacks and disinformation intended to tilt the November election in Mr. Trump’s favor.
“We’re not doing this on the state level,” Mr. Putin said on Thursday.
The boundary between state and private action, however, is often blurred, particularly in matters relating to the projection of Russian influence abroad. Nominally private Russian patriots have fought alongside Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine and have taken part in various campaigns to advance Moscow’s agenda in Eastern and Central Europe.
Perhaps worried that American intelligence agencies could release solid evidence linking last year’s cyberattacks to Russia, Mr. Putin also put forward a theory that modern technology could easily be manipulated to create a false trail back to Russia.
“I can imagine that someone is doing this purposefully — building the chain of attacks so that the territory of Russian Federation appears to be the source of that attack,” Mr. Putin said. “Modern technologies allow to do that kind of thing, it’s rather easy to do that.”
The evolution of Russia’s position on possible meddling in the election matches 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.
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