The following is a thought experiment.
What if Putin was behind the leaking of the Russian hacking allegations? In this thought experiment Putin did not order Russian operatives to “hack” the US Presidential election. The “hack” term is misleading anyway, no-one is alleging that the Russians hacked the vote counting machines (something something Democrats…). Rather the term refers to the release and dissemination of factually true information to the voting public. Continuing, Putin did not behave inappropriately in any way. Even if he did, he would merely be on the same level as numerous countries that put their hands where they don’t belong. We all know that Putin is not an angel, I wouldn’t bother saving for a pension if I were a Russian journalist or politician opposing his rule.
The narrative found in the mainstream media is almost uniformly that Putin ordered Russian operatives to interfere in the US election in order to secure a Donald Trump victory, something that would greatly benefit Russia and Putin himself since Trump would be easy to control/manipulate. But is this really how Putin would act? It is well known that Putin was a KGB-agent prior to his political career. Surely he must be quite skilled in spycraft and in the art of clandestine activities. Would he really do something so obvious? What if the real play made by Putin was in fact to help spread the rumors about Russian hacking and other nefarious activities. He would in effect be using the American mainstream media as his unwitting henchmen. By doing this he would provide ammunition to the enemies of one of his geopolitical adversaries. It would in a sense be reminiscent of Trump’s expression “OPM – other people’s money”.
Spreading distrust in the current hyperpartisan trench warfare like politics present in the US today would be a very effective tactic. Putin would only need to provide the initial kindling, the partisan hacks would do the rest. This kind of masterful puppeteering is something “worthy” and something one would expect from former KGB-man Putin. You might object, “but doesn’t Putin want a good relationship with Trump? What about the Trump-reset?”. That is a valid point. Would it be prudent for Putin to bet on Trump having enough political capital to pull it off? We can see that elements of the Deep State and Russia hawks in both parties are more than powerful enough to put a dampener on Trump’s ambitions. A safer play for Putin would be to weaken the American administration. The whole Russian hacking situation has already claimed political victims, former National Security Advisor Flynn being the most prominent. You can’t openly physically attack your political opponents, but you can attack them with damaging leaks.
A prominent theory espoused in Adam Curtis’ newest “documentary” HyperNormalisation this whole line of thinking is explored. In Curtis’ case he postulates that Trump has deliberately used the strategy of dirtying the water in regards to the truth in order to create an electoral environment in which he could win. Curtis also delved into Russian activities in Crimea/Ukraine and in Syria. Deliverately clouding the truth and enabling yourself plausible deniability are intended strategies in the Russian arsenal according to the film. Perhaps this whole thought experiment isn’t so far fetched after all? Putin being behind the leaks does not preclude others from starting and distributing similar questionable rumors/information.