Russian President Vladimir Putin says he does not believe his country and the United States are enemies and downplayed fresh sanctions levied against his country by the American lawmakers.
During his annual nationwide call-in show Thursday, Putin said Russia and the United States had fought beside each other during two world wars and “the Russian empire was key in securing U.S. independence.”
"I know the mood of our people, we do not believe America is our enemy. ... There is hysteria in the media and it affects the mood, but many people in Russia admire the achievements of the American people, and I hope relations will normalize,” he said.
New US sanctions
Putin’s comments came a day after the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to strengthen sanctions against Russia as punishment for its campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The new sanctions passed Wednesday target Russians involved in serious human rights abuses, supplying weapons to the Syrian government, carrying out malicious cyber activities and doing business with Russian intelligence and defense.
Putin downplayed the effectiveness of the sanctions and blamed U.S. domestic issues as the reason for their imposition.
"We have always lived under sanctions,” Putin said. “Whenever Russia grew stronger there would always be sanctions, throughout history. There is a U.S. bill to toughen sanctions, why? Nothing has changed, why are they talking about sanctions. It's evidence of domestic political problems in the U.S."
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian hackers stole and released thousands of emails from a top Hillary Clinton campaign aide, though no evidence has been released linking Russians to the hacking, as Putin pointed out Thursday.
“[Former FBI Director James Comey] thinks there was Russia’s interference in the electoral process, but does not provide any proof again,” Putin said.
He then jokingly offered political asylum to embattled former FBI Director, who had been leading the investigation into Russian election meddling until he was fired last month by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It sounds very strange when the head of the security services writes down a conversation with the commander-in-chief and then leaks it to the media through his friend,” Putin said.
Putin compared Comey to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who has been given political asylum in Russia, and implied there was no difference between the actions of Snowden and those of Comey.
“That means he is not the leader of the security services, but a human rights defender. And if he faces pressure, then we are happy to offer him political asylum too,” Putin said.