Russian Meddling Abroad: Does Putin Pull All The Strings? By Angela Charlton and Matthew Bodner – Associated Press
As alleged Russian plots, conspiracies and crimes unfold against the West, prosecutors and pundits routinely blame Vladimir Putin or a circle of Kremlin insiders said to be acting on direct orders from the president.
Putin may indeed have involvement in some shadowy schemes, but is he micromanaging every suspected poisoning, computer hack and influence campaign?
Experts say not necessarily. Instead, they say Putin and his entourage may be sending out signals about what he wants, and ambitious officials and individuals scramble to interpret and fulfill them to win his favor.
The motley mix of Russians accused of meddling in U.S. politics seems to illustrate this. Gun activist Maria Butina, who is jailed in Washington on charges that she tried to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent, is among those on the margins of power who seemed to seize an opportunity to advance their own interests and potentially please their rulers by manipulating gullible Americans.
It's unclear whether Putin was even aware of Butina's activities. But the initiative — like Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya's efforts to meet with Donald Trump's campaign team, or online trolling credited to "Putin's chef" Yevgeny Prigozhin — dovetailed with the Kremlin's dual goals of destabilizing Western democracy and ending sanctions against Russia…