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The American CIA reportedly believes that the Russians, in the form of the Russian government and possibly private actors, went to signficant length (psych / cyber ops) to help Trump win.

Having said that, could you provide a clear explanation of exactly why they would want that?

The only explanation I've seen in the news is some vague reference to it having something to do with past business relationships with Russian billionaires. Is that complete/accurate?

Is it just gratitude for past business deals or would they expect Trump to benefit them in the future as well (or is there some other element)? It couldn't have anything to do with his wife, could it? If not for the business relationships, I would've expected the Russians to prefer a Democrat, as Republicans are (in my perception) typically viewed as more aggressive towards rivals and less co-operative in international affairs.

Note: Retrospectively this question is similar to a couple of others so I won't dispute it being marked as a dupe, but I think it's more broadly focused and has some good unique answers.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Philipp Dec 13 '16 at 9:55
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While Trump in general has been supportive of Putin and the Russian government, there are several specific policy reasons that they supported him.

Trump will weaken US commitment to NATO

For Vladimir Putin, the election of Donald Trump may undermine the NATO military alliance. Trump has said that the U.S. would not automatically defend its treaty allies and that we might withdraw forces from Europe and Asia. This weakening of the U.S. commitment to NATO comes at a time when the military alliance is seeking to deter Russia from threatening to annex the Baltic nations, as it did the Crimea.

New York Daily News

Trump will consider recognizing Crimea as part of Russia

Putin has rational motives for wanting Trump to win: Trump champions many foreign policies that Putin supports. Trump's most shocking, pro-Kremlin proposal is to "look into" recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia. President Barack Obama and nearly every member of Congress — Republican and Democrat — have rejected that idea vigorously. Only Afghanistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela have recognized Russia's annexation of Crimea. Naturally, Putin would love to see the United States join that list.

Chicago Tribune

Trump's views on the dangers of ISIS that some feel are overblown help justify Russian military actions within Syria

Trump likely doesn’t know it, but his (absurd) idea that ISIS could mount a coup against the U.S. government from within the country is once again a gift to Putin. The Russian leader has been justifying his decision to send Russian forces to Syria on the basis that it protects Russian citizens from future terrorist attacks and the Russian government from destabilization.

The Fiscal Times

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    Worth noting that in typical Trump fashion it really depends on what time of the day you ask him these things because he has gone back and forth on all of those points. – David says Reinstate Monica Dec 11 '16 at 5:18
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    Regarding NATO: he wants the other countries to pay up instead of the US giving freebies. If NATO won't right away, a country or two will fall (likely the Baltic) and then they'll do anything to gain protection. – Fine Man Dec 11 '16 at 6:05
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    There are also a lot of speculative possible reasons why Russia might want Trump to win. For example, they might have blackmail material on him. They might have made a secret deal with him or someone close to him. He may have various business ties to people close to the Russian government. None of these things are provable, some of them are purely speculative, but some are backed by some circumstantial evidence. – David Schwartz Dec 11 '16 at 6:48
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    I do like your answer but the last point you make isn't supported by the text. – K Dog Dec 11 '16 at 13:53
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    You forgot: It's almost certain that Trump has huge debts to Russian banks, because no Western financial institution will do business with him because he's a terrible businessman. – Shadur Dec 11 '16 at 21:50
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While I'm not sure about all the assumptions made in OP, I would tend to agree that the Kremlin preferred Trump over Hillary. One out of several reasons could be Hillary's Syria policy.

Why Clinton's plans for no-fly zones in Syria could provoke US-Russia conflict - The Guardian

Hillary Clinton Goes All-In On Syria No-Fly Zone - The Huffington Post

Such a no-fly zone would have been a severe challenge to Russia, forcing them to seriously reconsider their strategy in Syria. Some (such as The Guardian) also feared a no-fly zone could have lead to an escalation of the war, from proxy-war to conventional war. Clearly, the Russian government did not want this.

Hillary has often been described as Hawkish. To quote the New York Times:

How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk

Throughout her career she has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama — and most Democrats.

From Wikipedia:

The term liberal hawk refers to a politically liberal individual (in the American sense of the term) who supports a hawkish, interventionist foreign policy.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed more concerned with domestic issues and less about dealing with the rest of the world. Some went as far as to call him isolationist (that may be taking it a bit far, but I do understand the use of the term.)

All in all, the Russian government may prefer a US who takes less of an interest in geo-political power struggles and focuses more on domestic issues. They may have felt that Trump would be less of an obstacle to them and their interests than what Hillary would have been.

Surely, Trump has also made some bizarre and dangerous statements on foreign policy. But perhaps the Kremlin does not see them as a threat to their interests, or as realistic.

Of course, geo-politics is complex, and this is mere speculation. It is often difficult to understand what is really going on. Also, in any case, there are likely to be multiple causes, not just one.

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    Any answer is all speculation but this answer does a good job of positing basic possibilities within that framework. – rougon Dec 11 '16 at 6:32
  • I don't think you should neglect that Trump also just seems really easy for the Russians to manipulate. – Lembik Dec 12 '16 at 14:06
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    @Lembik That's an interesting conspiracy theory, but I think we ought to back it up with some evidence before we consider including it in an answer here. There is enough speculation in this answer already. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '16 at 14:27
  • @Fiksdal It's not a conspiracy theory, more an observation that can't be proven :) In case it wasn't clear, I am referring to his obvious vanity, his inability to see beyond the most obvious emotional reaction to provocation and Putin's careful use of flattery when talking about Trump. – Lembik Dec 12 '16 at 14:28
  • @Lembik I see. Sounds subjective and more suitable for Reddit than SE. To clarify, I'm no Trump fan, but I try to keep my answers as objective as possible here on SE. – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Dec 12 '16 at 15:33
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I think that it is a false assumption that the Russians wanted Trump, at least in a flat-out manner. I would postulate an alternative theory: the Russians just wanted to create chaos, disorganization and doubt in the American election system. Why? Because there is a general theory among the great powers that whatever is good for one is bad for the other. A strong integrity of election is good for America, and while it is not directly bad for Russia, it is good for America which is bad for Russia.

As another example of this theory, why are the Russians in Syria? Russia does not have this reputation of 'global police force' and 'humanitarian savior' like the U.S. does. They did not partake in any military operations there for years while the Syrian civil war went on, and even for a long period of time after the U.S. began military operations. However, by having military operations in Syria now it makes it significantly more difficult and costly for the U.S. to conduct military operations in Syria. In other words, if the Americans are doing it, it must be bad for Russia, so Russia should throw a wrench in it. Even if it doesn't directly help Russia.

I would also add that there are some arguments to be made that the Russians would prefer Clinton in the White House over Trump. For example, remember the Russian Reset? That was pretty advantageous for the Russians.

Finally, and most tin-foil-hat-y, can we really be certain that the Russians did it? I feel pretty confidant in saying that the Russians have operations to hack U.S. systems, and that they have had success before. But nowadays it seems as if they are being blamed for everything. Remember that governments are run by people, and people are imperfect, so how do we know some people aren't just sweeping stuff under the rug and just pointing the finger at Russia because Russia is the Big Bad Wolf Bear of the day?

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    While I can agree with some of this, I think there's too much personal opinion and speculation in this answer. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 11 '16 at 5:55
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    Also, to the point of attribution to Russia, with the right resources and evidence, you certainly could be certain. We don't have access to the same resources of say the NSA, or potentially even the resources available to some of the private researchers that arrived at the same conclusion. I'd advise against dismissing the consensus of experts so readily without a comparable level of knowledge and understanding. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 11 '16 at 7:03
  • Thank you for this answer. I've upvoted but will wait until later today to pick a final answer. – Hack-R Dec 11 '16 at 14:54
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    -1 thanks for your opinion. But this is not an answer. – NuWin Dec 12 '16 at 0:57
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    If, as the CIA is reporting, the RNC was hacked but none of those emails were released, I think that is significant evidence that the hackers acted out of a specific interest to make Clinton lose. After all, what would stir things up more than lots of infighting about Trump throughout the primary and general election, and/or high-level Republicans showing a very different opinion of Trump than they've stated publicly? – BradC Dec 12 '16 at 19:32
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The CIA and NATO intelligence have strong evidence that that the Russian government used cyber attacks and disinformation to destabilise the Clinton campaign. Trump has consistently denied this intel and says he believes Putin's denials, causing widespread dismay amongst US allies.

The reason that the Russians supported the Trump campaign is likely simple - Trump is in Putin's pocket. Due to his many bankruptcies he is unable to raise loans in the US, and while he is trying to hide his sources of finance it is wide accepted that he is in debt to Russian financiers within Putin's circle. So Putin is likely in a position to bring down Trump's business empire with a couple of phone-calls to his billionaire cronies.

So we have the unprecedented situation of a US President under the control of a militarily aggressive demagogue at the head of a hostile power that is actively working to destabilise Western democracy.

  • Thank you for this answer. I've upvoted but will wait until later today to pick a final answer. – Hack-R Dec 11 '16 at 14:55
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    Quite frankly, this is an unhinged rant, not an answer. – K Dog Dec 11 '16 at 17:21
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    @KDog - and why is this unhinged? My claim that the Russians supported Trump with cyber warfare has been publicly supported by the CIA and the other major intelligence agencies of the NATO alliance. My claim that Trump is financed by Russians close to Putin is supported by detailed investigative journalism in Newsweek (quoted in my answer). Trump's virtually unqualified support for Putin is a matter of public record. Do you have facts to repudiate any of this? – Tullochgorum Dec 12 '16 at 8:39
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    CIA and NATO are both agressively anti Russian, anti Trump and pro Clinton, so their "evidence" isn't worth the paper that it is written on. You could as well use KKK sites on black crime. The most likely reason for Putin to be for Trump is A: That he with his loud mouth and little intelligence, is a far smaller danger for Russia than Clinton, who has already shown to be for war, if it helps the companies that she has deals with. and B: Russia is big in Gas and Oil, with Trump the chance that the US will rely on these sources in the future is far better with Clinton. – Etaila Dec 12 '16 at 9:25
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    @Etaila Why do you say the CIA is aggressively anti-Trump? – Lembik Dec 12 '16 at 14:05
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Back in 2011 Rosneft and Exxon made a deal which is crucial for the future of Russia and Exxon both. It's about a site in the Arctic which became accessible due to climate change but it's still an incredibly harsh environment and Exxon has the know how to drill it but no one else really has.

The East-Prinovozemelsky field (or Kara Sea for short) deposits are estimated to be 4.9 billion tons of oil (or 36 billion barrels) and 8.3 trillion of cubic meters of gas. To give you an idea how huge that is: it's a quarter of the entire reserves of Iraq. In a single field.

Now this deal can't go forward because of the USA sanctions against Russia. It was actually cancelled in 2014 and while the Russians claim Gasprom can drill this field, they have no real capability to do so. So far they drilled one well and said to resume in 2018. And that's quite probably wishful thinking. It pretty much follows from the very fact that they gave the development rights to Exxon in the first place, why would they let someone else earn hundreds of billions of dollars over the next few decades if they could do it themselves? Not to mention the immense amounts of capital this needs, the 2011 deal was about 3.2B USD and Exxon expected to invest tens of billions "initially".

Now, observe please the Exxon CTO being named Secretary of State. There's an awful lot of money to be made by Exxon and Russia should ― by some fortuitous coincidence ― the USA withdraw the sanctions so that the agreement can be signed again.

And, just in case you have any doubts that Rosneft is really the Russian state check the 2011 article linked:

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, right, with Rex Tillerson, chief executive of Exxon, at a signing ceremony in Sochi, Russi.

  • Can you cite some evidence that the deal can't go through because of US sanctions? Because from your article you posted it looks like it's full steam ahead. – K Dog Dec 12 '16 at 23:44
  • Sure. Added more sources, some history. – chx Dec 12 '16 at 23:58
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I am going to challenge a base assumption on motive related to a recently given testimony of the FBI found in the WaPo 12/11:

The FBI is not sold on the idea that Russia had a particular aim in its meddling. “There’s no question that [the Russians’] efforts went one way, but it’s not clear that they have a specific goal or mix of related goals,” said one U.S. official.

You can contrast the FBI's and CIA's positions, the CIA's is more definitive on the Russian's involvement, in the same article.

Their motive may have been just to see if it was possible and what the fallout would be like, or maybe they, or just Putin, greatly dislikes Clinton. The last point is getting more and more traction, from The Hill

Michael McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to help Donald Trump win the presidency to hurt Clinton.

“Let’s remember that Vladimir Putin thinks [Clinton] interfered in his election — the parliamentary election in December 2011 — and has said as much publicly, and I’ve heard him talk about it privately,” McFaul said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In one sense, the leaks against Democrats work against the interests of Russia, and interests they put money behind. It's recently been revealed, and confirmed by Hillary Clinton no less at a fund raiser this year, that Russian influences are paying huge sums of money in America and in Eastern European countries to environmental groups like the Sierra Club through a shell group to rally lobbying against fracking and other petroleum exploration and mining concerns, to better prop up Russia's oil supply. These groups universally and without exception for at least the last decade in the US only donate to Democrats or those that caucus with them. Republicans, of course, are for developing the energy infrastructure and furthering supplies of domestic energy sources. link link

As the position above illustrates, Russia has historically and ideologically found cover and common ground with Democrats in the US. The Russians enthusiastically welcomed Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and the then-head of that country’s Communist Party explained why the Russians don’t like Republicans Pravda:

All Republican presidents have always defended national interests, ignoring the interests of other countries of the world. The new US president [Obama] cannot but understand that it is impossible to seek and find answers to many global issues without the participation of such a great country as Russia.

From John Hinderacker:

The one thing we know for sure about Donald Trump is that he is pro-America–in the Russians’ eyes, a typical Republican. Moreover, why would the Russians think that exposing emails from the likes of Debbie Wasserman Schultz and John Podesta would cause Trump to win the election? American newspapers like the Washington Post were saying that Hillary had the election virtually wrapped up. It would be embarrassing if Vladimir Putin has more insight into the U.S. electorate than such organs as the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Be that as it may, Donald Trump’s assessment of this kerfuffle is correct: it is just another silly attempt by the Democrats to excuse the fact that they lost the election. The Wikileaks revelations, while entertaining and often interesting, were inside baseball. The voters who swung Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin into the GOP column didn’t do so because they were outraged by John Podesta’s emails, or by the fact that the DNC conspired against Bernie Sanders. For the Democrats to claim otherwise is delusional.

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    [Citation Needed] on that last paragraph of right-wing spin. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 11 '16 at 17:37
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    "Republicans, of course, are for developing the energy infrastructure and furthering supplies of domestic energy sources." Just not the renewable ones I guess. Only the ones that further the fossil fuel industry. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 11 '16 at 17:38
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    @AlexanderO'Mara, the usual policy position is an "all of the above" market based approach that doesn't favor sources, although Bush favored those giant sky blenders known as wind energy significantly. Not sure where Trump is to tell you the truth. – K Dog Dec 11 '16 at 17:44
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    "market based approach that doesn't favor sources" The market is heavily dominated by the fossil fuel industry, which obviously favors sources. Also, Trump has made his position of anti-renewable and pro-fossil fuel very clear many times. – Alexander O'Mara Dec 11 '16 at 17:50
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    -1 because the last paragraph is demonstrably false. Plenty of progressives favour domestic solar and wind energy development. – gerrit Dec 12 '16 at 11:21

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