Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that claims that his country meddled in last year’s U.S. presidential elections were “spy hysteria.”
Putin made the remarks in his annual news conference, where he touched on a wide range of topics, a number of them involving the United States:
Putin once again rejected allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying the “spy hysteria and nonsense” have damaged the American political system.
“It is a globally recognized practice when diplomats, even government officials, meet with all the candidates, their teams to discuss certain issues, development prospects. What is wrong about that? Why should it develop into a spy hysteria?” he said, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
Although Putin said Donald Trump’s political opponents made up the allegations to undermine him, U.S. intelligence agencies have found that Moscow attempted to influence the election in then-candidate Trump’s favor. The Senate Intelligence Committee is carrying out an investigation.
Putin said it was not up to him to evaluate Trump’s success as a U.S. president. “It is his voters, the American people, who should do that,” the Russian leader said.
But he added that growing markets have demonstrated investors’ confidence in Trump’s economic course.
“We actually see that some serious achievements have been made during the short period of time that has passed since he took office. Just look at how the markets have gone up,” he said, according to TASS. “It shows they (investors) trust in what President Trump has been doing in this field.”
Putin welcomed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments this week that Washington was willing to talk with North Korea without preconditions.
“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk,” Tillerson said Tuesday, appearing to signal a shift in State Department policy.
“As follows from what Mr. Tillerson said, the United States looks ready for direct contacts,” Putin said. “This is a very good signal, which indicates that there is some progress in the American leadership in general and in the Department of State, the awareness of realities.”
However, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said Trump’s position is that there is no point in holding talks with Pyongyang if the North continues its nuclear threats.
‘Whipping up tensions’
Putin said the U.S. and North Korea should “stop whipping up tensions” after Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un traded insults for months over the North’s nuclear ambitions.
North Korea has fired 23 missiles since February, including a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Nov. 29 that it said was capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
“Pyongyang sees no other way of self-protection than the development of weapons of mass destruction and missile program. … It is necessary to end this spiral, because this is a very dangerous thing. One North Korean launch will be enough to make its consequences disastrous,” Putin said, according to TASS.
U.S. sanctions on Russia
Putin said the U.S.’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia were “beyond common sense.”
Trump signed a new package of sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea in August. The sanctions on Russia relate to its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory in 2014 and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, as well as alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
“Your congressmen and senators, who look good and seem to be smart, have put us alongside North Korea and Iran. At the same time, they are prodding the president to persuade us to solve the problems of North Korea and the Iranian nuclear program together with you,” Putin said, according to TASS.
“Are you people normal or not? It’s strange, you should agree. This is beyond common sense.”
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