President Vladimir Putin has a message for the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of stealing their victory: Don't be sore losers.
That was how Putin answered a question Friday about whether Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election in favor of Donald Trump at the Russian leader's nationally televised annual press conference
"Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere," Putin said in answer to a Russian TV host, one of 1,400 journalists accredited to the marathon session. "They need to learn to lose with dignity."
The Kremlin leader pointed out Republicans had won the House and Senate, remarking "Did we do that, too?"
"Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him," Putin said, adding with a grin. "Except for you and me."
Putin has repeatedly denied involvement despite the accusations coming from the White House, and the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the evidence for the U.S. claims. On Friday he borrowed from Trump's dismissal of the accusations, remarking "Maybe it was someone lying on the couch who did it."
"And it's not important who did the hacking, it's important that the information that was revealed was true, that is important," Putin said, referring to the emails that showed that party leaders had favored Hillary Clinton.
Putin has given one press conference a year at the end of December for the 12 years he's been president (taking a break for the four years he was prime minister). He deflected a question from an American reporter about whether he will move up 2018 elections. Some have speculated that the Kremlin leader might want to hold the elections earlier while his popularity soars above 80 percent. Putin has not made it clear whether he will run, though any suggestion that he might retire also seems premature.
Putin restated his interest in improved relations with the United States after the inauguration of Trump, who has promised to work closely with Russia in the fight against terrorism.
In the wake of the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey this week, Moscow and Ankara have made a show of their willingness to work together and, along with regional power Iran, bring a settlement to Syria.
Putin moved back the press conference a day to attend the funeral of his slain ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in a brazen public shooting by a man shouting slogans about the war in Syria.
Putin deflected a question about Trump's promise to upgrade the U.S. nuclear arsenal, saying Russia was also upgrading its nuclear deterrent, "so that it will be stronger than any aggressor." He blamed U.S. efforts to develop anti-missile technology for creating "conditions for a new arms race."
"Preconditions for the new arms race were created when the U.S. withdrew from the anti-missile treaty. We are not violating any agreements," Putin said."Representatives of the current U.S. administration started to say that they are the strongest and most powerful in the world. Yes, indeed, they have more rockets, submarines, and aircraft carriers. We can't argue with it."
Putin, always concerned about his high popularity rating, touted a few good-news items about the Russian economy, hailing what he called record-low inflation of 5.5 percent, and congratulating villagers on this year's harvest.
In recent poll by the Yuri Levada Analytical Center that gave Russians an opportunity to select which events they consider most important, 30 percent mentioned inflation, 28 percent mentioned the election of Trump, and 22 percent mentioned Syria. Russia's efforts to mediate the civil war are at the top of nightly news.