Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that there was a possibility that “patriotically minded” private Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. His statement came at an economic forum where he was asked about allegations that Russia would interfere in Germany's elections. This is a shift from Putin’s previous statements, where he denied any Russian involvement in the election. He still maintains that the Russian government played no part in any hacking that affected the election.

Putin denies government involvement

Putin stated that Russian hackers could have decided on their own to try and influence the U.S. election. In a statement, Putin said, “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions ­– which are right, from their point of view – to fight against those who say bad things about Russia.” He also stated that "Hackers are free people, just like artists" who follow their whims, not someone else's directions.

Putin again reiterated that the Russian government was not involved in any hacking, saying, “We’re not doing this and are not planning to do this at the state level... we try to fight this inside the country.” He also said that he is “deeply convinced that no hackers can radically influence another country’s election campaign.”

“I can imagine another thing, someone is doing something on purpose by carrying out various attacks in order to say that Russia is the source,” Putin stated today.

He continued, “Modern technologies allow to do that kind of thing, it’s rather easy to do.” President Trump made recent remarks saying that the hacks could have been done by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” Putin affirmed Trump’s statement, saying, “I think that he was totally right… Anything is possible in this virtual world.”

Putin also said that “Russo-phobic hysteria” over the election hacks has made having cordial relations with the U.S.

extremely difficult to maintain. “It’s having an impact,” Putin stated, “I’m afraid this is one of the goals of those who organize it are pursuing and they can fine tune the public sentiments to their liking, trying to establish an atmosphere that is going to prevent us from addressing common issues, say with regard to terrorism.”

U.S. intelligence names Putin

Putin's statements contradict accusations from United States intelligence agencies that concluded in January that Russian officials did meddle with the presidential campaign.

The CIA, FBI and NSA all put out reports stating that Putin himself was responsible for a Russian “influence campaign” designed to influence the election. The reports compiled by the U.S. intelligence agencies presumably have evidence that caused the conclusion that the Kremlin and Putin were involved in skewing the election.

The released report stated, "We assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency." United States officials also stated that they believe Putin wants to damage the image of American democracy to make it less attractive to Russians and their neighbors.

The CIA and FBI firmly agreed with "high confidence" that Russia favored Trump, while the NSA agreed with "moderate confidence". The report also stated that Putin saw the cyberattacks as payback for when the U.S. tried to defame Russia with the Panama Papers and the Olympic doping scandal.