Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that President Trump was being “barred from implementing his agenda,” including improved relations with Moscow, by false accusations about Russian interference in the U.S. political process.
Putin suggested that the upheaval in Washington eventually will die down and he will meet personally with Trump. He suggested the encounter could take place in July, at the G-20 summit in Germany, or at a summit of the Arctic Council scheduled for September in Finland.
“We are ready,” Putin said. But the timing “depends to a large extent on the American side. . . . At a certain point in time it will come to a close,” he said of internal U.S. “squabbles,” and “we will decide when and where the meeting is held.”
Speaking on a panel of leaders of nations bordering the Arctic, held in the northern Russian city of Archangel, Putin at first rejected questions posed to him about the United States, saying that he didn’t want “positive sentiment” on Arctic cooperation to be “killed off by the issue of U.S.-Russia relations.”
But, he said, “I’ll have to be led astray.” He proceeded to declare that “opposition polls in the United States show that many people are friendly toward the Russian Federation,” and that suggestions to the contrary were based on “fictional, illusory provocations [and] lies” being used “for domestic American political agendas.”
Putin’s comments came as Washington was embroiled in controversy over possible contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials and intelligence operatives during the presidential campaign and transition period, which are being investigated by Congress and the FBI.
Allegations about the contacts have emerged as part of a broader investigation into what the U.S. intelligence community has said was Russian-sponsored hacking of Democratic email accounts and subsequent leaks of information to undermine the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Trump has denied any substantive contacts with Russia, and charged that former president Barack Obama “wiretapped” him.
“You see what’s been happening?” Putin said. “The newly-elected president is barred from implementing his agenda — delivering on his pledges on health care, and international affairs, and relations with the Russian Federation. We [will] just wait until things rectify and stabilize.”
The “best proof” that Russia has not interfered with the United States in the past, he said, is that it is not interfering now “in any way.”
During the campaign, Trump variously said he did “have a relationship” with Putin and had interacted with the Russian president’s “people” during visits to Moscow, including during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant held there. Trump said later, “I spoke indirectly — and directly — with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”
Trump switched gears in mid-2016, as his calls for a better relationship and counterterrorism collaboration with Russia in Syria and elsewhere ran headlong into controversy about Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and aggression toward NATO. “I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is,” Trump said in his last news conference before the election. “He once said nice things about me.”
A week after his inauguration, Trump spoke on the telephone with Putin, and both said they would work toward a face-to-face meeting. But the administration has said little about collaboration or an upcoming meeting as the hacking scandal has grown. At the same time, key Trump national security aides, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have said they view Russia as a threat and cannot foresee any military cooperation.
At the Archangel forum, Putin said he will meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has scheduled a trip to Moscow in early April. Counterterrorism, he said, would be “among the key issues on our agenda.”
But “in order for this work to be efficient, we need interaction not only with the Department of State, we also need interaction with the CIA, we need interaction with the Pentagon. It is unlikely that we can achieve a positive result without constructive work with our partners on these tracks,” he said.
The White House has indicated Trump will attend the July 7-8 summit of the world’s 20 major economies, including Russia, to be held in Hamburg. It has not indicated plans to attend the September summit of the Arctic Council, which includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in addition to Russia and the United States.