RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump and some of his Republican allies have argued that Ukraine, not Russia, may be responsible for election meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That runs counter to the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, which determined that Russia was the culprit. And in the opinion of Fiona Hill, until recently President Trump's top adviser on Russia, that conspiracy theory originates with Russian disinformation. Here she is testifying last week in front of the House Intelligence Committee.
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FIONA HILL: In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.
MARTIN: So how is Russia viewing and thinking about the impeachment drama in Washington? For that, we go to NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Lucian, in her testimony last week, Hill also said Russia is already interfering in next year's presidential election. Has Putin addressed this at all?
LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Well, first of all, the Kremlin has, of course, consistently denied it ever interfered in the 2016 election and says, of course, it won't happen in the 2020 election. But recently, it seems like President Vladimir Putin has been trolling the U.S. a bit. He publicly actually joked about an election interference in 2020. Listen to him here answering a question about it last month.
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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).
KIM: So what he's saying here is, I'll tell you a secret. Of course, we're going to interfere, but don't tell anybody. Of course, this was on a stage at a public forum. What's interesting, though, is that talk about election interference in a more general sense is in some ways beneficial to the Kremlin. The Russian government right now is cracking down really on all forms of dissent at home, and it's accusing foreign media and even Russian opposition leaders of being foreign agents that are engaged in election interference against Russia. So they're using the same vocabulary.
MARTIN: So we can't ignore the fact that all of this is happening against this broader context of an ongoing war that's happening right now between Russia and Ukraine, right? Where do things stand right now in that conflict?
KIM: Exactly. Ukraine is key. Putin, right now, sees making some compromise over Ukraine or with Ukraine as a way of doing two things - first of all, maybe getting the Europeans to ease some of their sanctions and, B, in that way to open a rift between the U.S. and Europe. There's really been a huge development here in Europe during the impeachment hearings. French President Emmanuel Macron has been reaching out to Russia, and he plans to host the first summit meeting between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Originally, the Ukrainian side was counting on a lot more support from the U.S. going into that meeting.
MARTIN: But because Ukraine has been the focus of the impeachment hearings, I mean, I have to imagine that's something that Vladimir Putin welcomes.
KIM: Yeah. Putin, in fact, recently expressed some relief that now it's Ukraine which is being accused of interfering in the U.S. elections and not Russia. He's also said that Ukraine shouldn't rely on faraway friends like the U.S. and instead turn to its good old neighbor, Russia. But sarcasm aside, you know, the Kremlin is enjoying this focus on Ukraine in the U.S. State media obsessively covers Ukraine. It's sort of the alter ego of Russia. And Ukraine is being held up to show how bad things are if you ally yourself with the West.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Lucian Kim reporting from Moscow. Thank you, Lucian. We appreciate it.
KIM: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.