The new Red Scare? Russia ups role in world events, US elections

Updated 5:26 PM EDT, Thu September 15, 2016
us shifting intel resources to russia sciutto lead dnt_00005102.jpg
us shifting intel resources to russia sciutto lead dnt_00005102.jpg
Now playing
02:24
Sources: US boosting Russian intel operations
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Matt Rourke/AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes Barre, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Now playing
02:16
Trump slams probe 'hoax' despite intel warning
Now playing
02:23
Russian pop star trolls Trump in music video (2018)
Trump WH 5
CNN
Trump WH 5
Now playing
01:31
Trump: It is possible I will meet with Putin
Now playing
01:06
Toobin calls Giuliani claim 'corrupt and unethical'
CNN
Now playing
00:54
Giuliani: Stop the possibility of impeachment
Getty Images
Now playing
03:03
GOP members slam Trump's Russia comments
CNN
Now playing
01:38
Giuliani: Trump has right to know FBI source
Now playing
01:21
Trump says 'disgraceful' if FBI spied on campaign
Now playing
01:34
Trump lawyers seek to limit Mueller interview
CNN
Now playing
02:45
Page: Never found anything unusual about FBI source
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08:  Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:08
Comey: Trump won't criticize Putin, even in private
UNTV
Now playing
02:27
Nikki Haley: I don't get confused
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV        (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:03
Russia reacts to Trump's Syria strike tweets
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:26
US hits Putin allies with new sanctions

Story highlights

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is playing an outsized role in the presidential race

Russian agents are suspected in a wave of hacks

(CNN) —  

The Cold War was supposed to have ended a quarter of a century ago.

But Russia is commanding center stage in a presidential election for the first time in decades and President Vladimir Putin is being portrayed as a sinister puppeteer looming over the bitter contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Democrats have blamed him for orchestrating a huge cyberespionage operation using stolen and leaked emails to sow chaos and distrust in America’s democratic process ahead of November’s election. Putin’s even been accused of cultivating one of the candidates in the election – Trump – as an unwitting agent to further his quest to strangle US global power.

A decision by Putin to further foreign policy goals by intervening directly in a US election would cross a line rarely approached in Soviet times. And it begs the question of why Russia would take this perilous extra step.

The Soviet Union, though possessing the intelligence capacity to meddle in a US election, had always feared such a move could backfire and hurt a preferred candidate, said William Courtney, a former US ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia.

“(The current Russian leadership) may think there is a low-cost/high-payoff way to increase the perception that the system over here is chaotic and is not reliable,” said Courtney, now with the Rand Corporation.

Former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, “The long game here is not so much they are trying to influence who actually wins this particular election but the long game is more of a traditional psy ops battle where they are trying to erode trust in the electoral process.”

Trump: Putin has been a leader

Though Russia might feel it gains with its meddling regardless of who wins, it might not hurt that Trump has been so effusive toward Putin and so critical of current US policy toward Moscow that treats him as a threat. Indeed, in an unprecedented move for a major party nominee, Trump has lined himself up squarely with a foreign leader who sees himself as a US adversary.

Trump appeared to indicate at a forum televised by NBC last week that Putin’s flattery had prompted him to look on the Russian leader favorably.

“If he says great things about me, I’m gonna say great things about him. I mean, the man has very strong control over a country,” Trump said, while stressing he did not like the Russian political system.

“But certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.”