Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In NYC’s Russian Enclaves, a Big ‘Nyet’ to Hacking Talk

Clutching a cobbler’s tool, Roman Gadayev defiantly lashed out against accusations that Russia meddled in the U.S. election to sway the vote to Donald Trump.

“Simply impossible,” said the Kazakhstan native who runs a shoe repair shop near the Brighton Beach boardwalk. “This is something that only uneducated people can buy into.”

Most Russian-speaking expatriates interviewed by The Associated Press this past week in Brooklyn’s heavily ex-Soviet enclaves shrugged off a CIA assessment that Russia hacked the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign boss to help Trump, portraying it as nothing more than political sour grapes.

“Russia has nothing to do with this,” Ludmila Bondar, a retired credit analyst who moved to America from Skvyra, Ukraine, 26 years ago, said in Russian. “People are the ones who have elected Trump.”

Brighton Beach and adjacent Sheepshead Bay, which have become home to tens of thousands of Russian-speaking immigrants, are coincidentally where Trump’s father based a big part of his apartment-complex empire.

These enclaves along the Atlantic Ocean not far from the rides of Coney Island are also among the few corners of Trump country in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City. While the city overall went nearly 79 percent for Clinton in the presidential election, most precincts in the two neighborhoods voted “za Trampa,” or for Trump, some as high as 80 percent.

Roman Gadayev works in his Brighton Beach shoe repair shop in New York, Dec. 15, 2016. Gadayev holds a firm view on allegations that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election. “Simply impossible,” said the Kazakhstan native.

First-generation migrants told the AP they were generally drawn to the Republican candidate’s promises to reduce taxes and create more jobs. And many felt that U.S.-Russian relations were likely to improve during a Trump presidency.

Touting Trump’s electoral triumph as “a huge victory for regular people,” Odessa, Ukraine, transplant Yuriy Taras scoffed at the hacking allegations and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally behind it.

“I believe Russia couldn’t exert any influence on the elections in America,” Taras said in Russian, strolling the boardwalk with his wife, who was covered from head to toe in fur. “Maybe Russia wanted to, but in my opinion, Putin maintains the position that he doesn’t need war. He just needs others to stop bothering him.”

Taras said he considers Trump’s nomination of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, “a person who knows both Putin and Russia,” as secretary of state a sign that the relations between Washington and Moscow will be on the mend.

“If Trump does what he promised to, and Putin says all the time that he wants peace with America, then I think that enmity between Russia and the United States will stop,” Taras added.

Yuriy Taras enjoys the sunshine while sitting on the Brighton Beach boardwalk in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Dec. 16, 2016.

Yuriy Taras enjoys the sunshine while sitting on the Brighton Beach boardwalk in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Dec. 16, 2016.

CIA Director John Brennan has said the intelligence community is in agreement that Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, though there’s no evidence Moscow succeeded in helping Trump win. Democratic President Barack Obama has ordered a full review of any Russian involvement.

Yefim Kacher, a hair salon owner from Odessa who said he voted for Trump because of his promise to slash taxes, was among the few who said there appears to be sufficient evidence that Russia tried to sway the U.S. election outcome.

Although Kacher is critical of Putin’s “very aggressive” foreign policy, he hopes that the U.S.-Russian ties will get better because “one shouldn’t argue with America. It’s a big nuclear power and a compromise should exist.”

“Relations will improve thanks to common sense because no one wants to escalate the confrontation with Russia,” he said in Russian.

Roman Groysman, a 34-year-old marketing consultant whose family emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, says he sees hacking merely as a modern tool deployed by foreign countries against each other.

“It’s to be expected. We did the same to other countries. Why wouldn’t they try to do it to us?” he said. “It’s all fair in love and war.”

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