Putin slams 'hysteria' that Russia's meddling in US polls

FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference after his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in St Petersburg. (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)
FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference after his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in St Petersburg. (Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP)

Sochi - President Vladimir Putin slammed as "hysteria" on Thursday claims that Russia has tried to interfere in the upcoming US presidential elections by hacking US political institutions including the Democrats behind frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Russia has been accused of favouring Republican candidate Donald Trump - who has praised Putin and called for better relations with Moscow - over the more hawkish Clinton.

"The number of mythical, dreamt-up problems includes the hysteria - I can't think of another word - that has broken out in the United States about the influence of Russia on the current elections for the US president," Putin said at a meeting of political scientists in Sochi.

"Does anyone seriously think Russia can somehow influence the choice of the US people? Is the US some kind of banana republic? The United States is a great power. Please correct me if I'm wrong," Putin said to laughter in the audience.

Washington last week formally accused the Russian government of trying to "interfere" in the 2016 White House race by hacking US political institutions, charges the Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed.

Putin has vehemently rejected the accusations, saying they are meant to divert American voters from domestic problems.

"It's a lot easier to distract people's attention towards Russia's so-called hackers, spies, agents of influence and so on," Putin said on Thursday.

The Kremlin strongman however adopted a hard line against cyber attacks, saying these are "unacceptable".

Russian authorities have slammed Washington for "unprecedented" threats after US Vice President Joe Biden told NBC this month that Putin would receive a "message" in response to the alleged hacking.

NBC later reported that the CIA was preparing a retaliatory cyber attack "designed to harass and embarrass the Kremlin leadership."

Russia's foreign ministry at the weekend said that an old version of its website had apparently been attacked after a US hacker claimed he broke in and posted a mocking message.

'Absolute nonsense'

The Kremlin was propelled to the heart of US politics in July after Clinton's campaign blamed Moscow for a damaging leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Putin has offered what appears to be veiled support for Trump, but he said Thursday that claims the Kremlin would like to see the Republican candidate win were "absolute nonsense."

"This is just a method of political struggle, a way to manipulate public opinion on the eve of the US elections," he said.

Putin nonetheless praised Trump for appealing to disenchanted American electors.

"He represents the views of a significant part of society in the United States that is tired of those elites who have been in power for decades," he said.

"He just represents the interests of such ordinary people, and he presents himself as an ordinary guy who criticises those who have already been in power for decades."

Russia not attacking anyone

He accused the West of building up a "mythical and made-up" threat of Russian aggression to justify increasing military spending and bolstering NATO forces in countries neighbouring Russia.

"It's very pleasant and profitable to make yourself out to be defendants of civilisation from some new barbarians, but the thing is Russia doesn't plan to attack anyone," he said.

"It's unthinkable - simply stupid and unrealistic," he added. "It's just funny to talk about it."

Putin also took a jab at the West for its "mistakes" in its military interventions in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and now, Syria.

"The fight against terrorism has not yielded a global result while the threats are only growing," he warned, complaining that Russia's calls to unite forces against terrorism have been ignored.

He pointed the finger of blame at the United States for the ongoing violence in Syria, saying that "stopping bloodshed and launching a political process (in Syria) has not been possible."

"Our personal agreements with the US President did not work," Putin added, accusing forces in Washington of "doing everything for these not to be implemented."

Putin said Russia had been comporting itself in a "composed" manner.

"But our patience has its limits," he said, without elaborating.

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