Putin denies meddling in US elections to help Trump win
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emphatically denied allegations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election and said Moscow would maintain hopes of improving relations while waiting for political infighting in Washington to stop.
Putin also said he is ready to meet with President Donald Trump in Finland if that country hosts an Arctic leaders’ summit, but added that he would wait longer if needed.
“We are seeing what’s going on. They are preventing the new president from fulfilling his campaign promises on many issues: health care, other issues, international relations, ties with Russia,” Putin said in remarks at a forum in the northern Russian city of Arkhangelsk. “We are waiting for the situation to normalise and become more stable. And we aren’t interfering in any way.”
The Kremlin had hoped for a thaw in relations with the United States with Trump’s election, but the congressional investigation of possible links between his campaign and Russia has dashed expectations of any quick improvement.
As the US Senate intelligence committee opened a hearing Thursday on the allegations of Russian meddling on Trump’s behalf, Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said Putin “ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.”
In his strongest statement yet on the subject, Putin dismissed what he called “endless and groundless” accusations against Russia.
Pressed about the allegations at the forum, Putin answered by quoting former President George H.W. Bush. “Read my lips: No.”
For emphasis, he pronounced the last word in English.
“This anti-Russian card is being played in the interests of some political forces inside the United States with an aim to strengthen and consolidate their positions,” Putin said, without naming anyone.
He also warned that the escalation of tensions would contradict American interests.
“I don’t think it’s in the interests of the majority of the American people to bring the US-Russian relations to absurdity for the sake of domestic politics,” he said. “Do we want to completely cut diplomatic relations? Do we want to bring the situation to what it was in the 1960s during the Cuban (missile) crisis? Where do people behaving in such an irresponsible way want to take us all, including the American people.”
Pointing to the attention being paid in the US to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak’s contacts with members of Trump’s team, Putin criticised attempts to cast the interactions as “some sort of spy action.”
“Isn’t it nonsense?” he said. “What is the ambassador there for? He’s there to speak to people, to maintain contacts with the political elite, with businessmen, with members of the House and the Senate, with administration officials.”
Putin noted that US Ambassador John Tefft to Russia was attending Thursday’s forum and has a chance to meet with Russian government members there.
“We aren’t obstructing it, just opposite, we are helping it,” he said.
Putin praised Trump’s pledge to fight terrorism, saying that Russia stands ready to cooperate.
“Only by pooling efforts can we efficiently combat terrorism,” Putin said. “I hope that we will eventually come to constructive cooperation.”
The Russian leader added that he’s looking forward to discussing the issue with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson if he visits Moscow, noting that it’s essential for the CIA and Pentagon to cooperate with their Russian counterparts.
No date has been set for Tillerson to travel to Russia.
Putin also dismissed Western calls for the release of Russians who were arrested for participating in unauthorised anti-corruption protests in Moscow and dozens of other cities last weekend, calling the detentions a domestic issue. He noted that anti-corruption slogans were also used to topple the governments during the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011, as well as in Ukraine.
The rallies marked the largest public show of discontent in years, casting an open challenge to the Russian leader a year before he faces re-election.
He said Russia expects the US political wrangling over the Trump team’s connections to Russia to end at some point, opening the way for a constructive summit.
“There are many issues which long have come to a head in the economic and security fields and regarding regional conflicts,” Putin said. “We are ready for that discussion. It’s necessary for the other side to also show goodwill and readiness for constructive work.”