MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin shook off and joked about allegations that Moscow was involved in hacking during last year’s presidential election in the United States or colluded with aides to President Donald Trump before he took office.
Speaking at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum Friday, Putin denied there was any deal made between Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak and anyone in Trump’s transition team about easing sanctions against Russia.
“This is some sort of hysteria, you just can’t get over!” joked Putin, half-indignantly.
Putin also repeated that there was no evidence of Russian state involvement in attempts to sway the election in Trump’s favor.
“IP addresses can be invented. You know how many specialists there are, they will arrange it in such a way that your children send something from your home computer [so it appears that] your three-year-old child carried out an attack,” he said.
A day earlier, Putin conceded that hacking could have been done from Russia by “patriotic” people fighting against those who say bad things about Russia. He maintained there was no state support.
U.S. intelligence services say Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee last year to harm the campaign of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton, who political analysts say Putin despised.
At the forum Friday, Putin lashed out at those blaming Russia for Clinton’s election defeat.
“That reminds me of anti-Semitism,” he said.
“‘It’s all the Jews’ fault.’ If one is foolish and can’t do anything, it’s the Jews’ fault. But we know what such things result in, and they don’t lead to anything good,” Putin added.
On Trump’s announcement Thursday to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, Putin was one of the very few world leaders to defend Trump’s decision.
“I would hold off on judging President Trump right now because it was President Obama who made the decision [to join the Paris agreement], so maybe the new president believes it was not well-conceived, maybe he thinks there are not enough resources,” he said.
Putin also made it clear that the climate deal was not final as far as Moscow was concerned.
“As far as I remember, the United States ratified the agreement, but we have not yet,” he said.
The head of the Center for Economic Research at the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, Basil Koltashov, said Russia is backing away from the deal.
“The Paris agreement is no longer seen by the Russian leadership as beneficial ... Vladimir Putin expressed that. Only he did not say directly, but made it clear that Trump will actually make the project pointless and, therefore, Russia will not be able to participate in it.”
Russian economic recovery
On the economy, analysts said there was a better mood at the forum than previous years.
“There is some optimism, and they spoke not about recession but how to speed up economic growth,” said the Institute of USA and Canadian Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Vladimir Batuk.
Putin said Russia’s economic recovery had entered a new phase, with three consecutive quarters of growth and GDP expected to increase 1 to 1.5 percent this year. He underscored the need for increased investment and a shift to a more modern, digital economy.
But analysts say more efforts are needed by Russia to better attract foreign investment and reduce red tape.
“It is required for Russia, in particular, to analyze and drastically change legislation established for the last 10 years concerning foreign investments by getting rid of multiple restrictions,” said the National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations’ Mikhail Subbotin. “There is so much to be done!” he added.
Earlier in the forum, Putin spoke to U.S. businessmen.
“Help us restore a good political dialogue. I am asking you on behalf of Russia. I am addressing our American counterparts. Help the newly elected president and the new administration of the United States,” Putin said.
Analysts argue there is some evidence that closer business ties could help.
“U.S.-China relations are much more stable than Russia-U.S. relations. The reason for that — China and the U.S. have big trade and investment relations. There’s nothing like that in Russia,” Batuk said. But he also acknowledge Russia too often restricts trade for political purposes. “Yes, indeed in many cases. Not good for both the Russia economy and international relations,” he said.
Olga Pavlova contributed to this report.