Russian President Vladimir Putin turned the tables on claims the Kremlin meddled in the U.S. presidential election, with a feisty Putin on Friday accusing American spies of “crude and systematic” widespread interference in Russian affairs.
Putin, speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg moderated by NBC’s Megyn Kelly, said the probe into Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the election via collusion with President Trump’s campaign team was merely “hysteria,” Reuters reported. He even tried to calm an inquisitive Kelly by asking: “Isn’t there a pill they can give you?”
He also compared the anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S. to anti-Semitism.
“It’s like saying everything is the Jews’ fault,” said Putin, who placed the blame for Hillary Clinton’s November loss squarely at the feet of the Democratic presidential candidate and members of her party.
Putin deftly brushed off questions about meetings that members of the Trump campaign – including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions – had with Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak.
“So our ambassador met someone. That's his job. That's why we pay him,” Putin said, according to a translation. “So what? What's he supposed to do, hit up the bars?”
He described the focus on Kislyak's contacts as “catastrophic nonsense.”
Earlier this week, Putin denied the Russian state had directed any hacking operations designed to influence the U.S. election – though he did say Russian “patriots” could have been behind the plot on their own accord. Friday, Putin went a step further, saying the U.S. claims contained “nothing concrete, only assumptions.” He added that IP addresses allegedly belonging to Russian hackers easily could have been rigged and couldn't stand as evidence.
“A 3-year-old can perpetrate such an attack,” Putin said.
Also, while many world leaders have condemned Trump’s decision on Thursday to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, Putin said he “wouldn’t blame Trump” for leaving the accord, though he hoped the Oval Office occupant would set new climate change rules.
Joking about the effects of climate change, Putin said “American imperialism” was the reason for Russia’s summer weather.
The former KGB officer also took aim at a favorite Russian target, NATO, asking why the alliance needed such robust defense spending.
“What part of their body are they thinking with?” he asked rhetorically.
Though Putin also said he hoped U.S. sanctions eventually would be lifted against his country, he bragged that the penalties had an unintended positive effect.
“We had to use our brains,” Putin said. “Not rely on oil and gas dollars.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.