Vladimir Putin has said the US needs to stop the “useless and harmful chatter” about Russian interference in the presidential election, arguing that Donald Trump’s electoral strategy was entirely responsible for his victory.
Speaking at the St Petersburg economic forum, Putin claimed there was no concrete evidence for US intelligence agencies’ allegations of Russian hacking, and said cyber specialists “can make anything up and blame anyone”.
The Russian president added that this “attempt to solve internal political issues using instruments of foreign policy” was damaging international relations.
“The problem is not here, the problem is within American politics.
Trump’s team was more effective in the electoral campaign,” Putin told the event’s moderator, the US television presenter Megyn Kelly.
“In all honesty, I myself sometimes thought that the guy was going too far, but it turned out he was right: he found an approach to those groups of the population and those groups of voters he counted on, and they came and voted for him,” Putin said.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign team was blaming the Russians rather than admitting its own mistakes, he said.
“It’s easier to say we are not guilty, the Russians are guilty … It reminds me of antisemitism: the Jews are guilty of everything,” Putin said at the end of his comments, which drew titters from the audience.
“If the information about the Democratic party favouring Clinton was true, is it really important who leaked it?” he asked, echoing his previous statements on Russian hacking.
US intelligence agencies say Russian spies hacked into a wide range of institutions and agencies during the US election campaign.
They have accused two Kremlin spy agencies – the GRU and the FSB – of hacking Democratic party emails and giving them to the website WikiLeaks.
Earlier this week, Putin for the first time allowed that “patriotically minded” Russian hackers could have been responsible for the hack, but then argued that the cyber-attacks could have been contrived to point the finger at Moscow.
Kelly’s repeated questions about the investigations into Trump’s ties with Russia provoked one of Putin’s most fiery performances in years, laced with numerous jokes at the Americans’ expense.
Asked about Russian officials meeting with members of Trump’s team during the campaign and transition, Putin declared they had just shared “general words about building relations” and that allegations of collusion were “some kind of hysteria, and you guys just can’t stop”.
“Do we need to give you a pill?
Does anyone have a pill?
Give them a pill, really, honestly. It’s surprising,” he said, raising a laugh even out of the impassive Indian PM, Narendra Modi, who was seated next to him.
Austria’s chancellor, Christian Kern, and Moldova’s president, Igor Dodon, also took part in the discussion.
Besides praising Trump’s electoral campaign, Putin refused to condemn the US president’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord, making light of the issue and questioning whether the countries of the world were really “in a position to halt climate change”.
“Somehow we here aren’t feeling that the temperature is really rising, but we should be thankful to President Trump.
There was snow in Moscow today; [in St Petersburg], it’s rainy and cold – now we can blame all this on him and American imperialism,” Putin joked.
Putin told Kelly, in English, “Don’t worry, be happy,” assuring her that the agreement would take effect in 2021, so there was still “plenty of time to reach an agreement”.
It wasn’t clear what he was referring to in this comment, since the accord took effect in November 2016.
One area where Putin was critical of Trump’s policy was regarding the US president’s demand that Nato members raise their military spending to 2% of GDP.
“If they aren’t planning to attack anyone, then why increase spending?
That of course worries us,” Putin said.