MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday denied that government hackers have ever meddled in U.S. elections and then turned the tables to accuse the United States of interference.
At his annual marathon news conference Thursday, Putin was asked by famous musician-turned-journalist Sergei Shnurov why Russian hackers didn't help President Donald Trump get reelected.
Putin angrily called the question a "provocation" and said U.S. intelligence agencies' conclusion that Russia used cybertricks, disinformation and other methods in the 2016 election to boost candidate Donald Trump are "allegations used to make relations between our two nations worse, to delegitimize the presidency of the outgoing U.S. president."
"And in this way, U.S.-Russian relations are all hostage to American domestic affairs. I think this is worse for Americans themselves," Putin said.
He then took it a step further and answered a question on recent Russian media investigations into the financial activities of Putin's family and entourage by alleging U.S. interference in Russia's domestic affairs.
"That's the State Department and U.S. security services; they are the real authors. Anyway, this has clearly been done on their orders. This is absolutely obvious," Putin said, without offering evidence. He added that "the goal is revenge and attempts to influence public opinion in our country in order to interfere in our domestic life."
Then he addressed opposition leader Alexei Navalny's poisoning for the first time since the investigative website Bellingcat released a joint investigation on Monday detailing how a team of Russian state security officers trailed Navalny for years, including on the trip to Siberia on which he was poisoned in August.
"This is not an investigation. This is an attempt to legitimize the materials provided by American intelligence officers," Putin said. Referring to Navalny as "the patient at the Berlin clinic," he said he "is actually supported by U.S. intelligence. Of course he's followed by other intelligence services."
Putin added: "In this case, security services should certainly keep an eye on him. But this absolutely does not mean he should be poisoned. Who cares about him? If they had really wanted, they'd have finished the job."
Navalny, 44, was in a medically induced coma for more than two weeks after becoming gravely ill during a flight from Siberia to Moscow. The Berlin hospital to which he was later transferred attributed his condition to a toxin similar to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, the same substance that Britain said Russian state security agents used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, Britain, in 2018.
The Kremlin has previously claimed that Navalny works with U.S. intelligence, also without providing any proof.
While Putin was one of the last world leaders to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his win, he did suggest that the incoming administration might address some of the lingering tensions between the two countries.
"We believe the U.S. president-elect will sort things out due to his domestic and foreign policy experience and hope that all arising problems — if not all then at least some of them — will be resolved during the tenure of the next administration," Putin said.
In response to a query about if Trump might be offered asylum in Russia, Putin replied that, "I don't think that there is any need for Mr. Trump to come and seek asylum in Russia because he has the support of 50% of the American population. He has a huge base of support. He's not going to exit America's political life."
With the news conference taking on a new look this year because of the coronavirus, Putin spent the first hour addressing how the country has handled the pandemic, answering questions from his suburban Moscow residence in Novo-Ogaryovo. Journalists from state, foreign and regional media posed their queries over video link from one of several centers all over the country. Putin also took a handful of questions from ordinary Russians.
The first question to Putin came from the Far East, about whether he viewed the year as a good or bad one. Putin opted to discuss the pandemic and said that Russia has fared better than most countries. Russia's 2.7 million total cases are the fourth-most in the world, and new cases have surpassed 25,000 per day. Data published by the state statistics service last week revealed that 30 percent more people died this October than a year ago.
“Despite numerous problem that we face and there are so many problems — like a sea full of problems — but despite that we managed to cope with them,” he said.
Asked if he's been vaccinated with Russia's Sputnik V jab, Putin, 68, said he hasn't because it's not recommended for people over 60 but will "definitely get vaccinated as soon as it becomes possible."
“Production of this vaccine requires relevant plants, enterprises, and hardware all that will be scaled up,” Putin said. “I expect all of these plans to be fulfilled and production of millions of vaccine doses to be ensured next year, at the beginning of the year.”