Russian President Vladimir Putin once again dismissed allegations that his country interfered in the U.S. presidential election, and in a new interview also questioned the citizenship of 13 people indicted by a special counsel investigating efforts to sway the electorate.
“Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked,” Putin said during Saturday’s two-part interview with NBC News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Last month, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted 13 Russians and three Russian-owned businesses on allegations of illegal meddling and dispensing false information to affect the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Their alleged activities include using fake social media accounts to spread misinformation and using fake identities to promote President Trump and denigrate his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“I do not care. I do not care at all because they do not represent the government,” Putin said of the 13 indicted.
Kelly asked Putin about Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian restaurant owner known as “Putin’s chef,” who was one of the people indicted.
“So what?” Putin responded. “There are many prominent people in Russia. He is not a state official, he does not work for the government; he is an individual, a businessman.”
Putin added it was “impossible” for Russia to interfere with another country’s election.
“We do not allow others to interfere in our domestic affairs, and we do not poke our noses into other people’s business,” Putin said.
Putin also said that Russia did not have the technological or media resources needed to implement the meddling. “We lack the necessary instruments…. Russia does not have the kind of tools the U.S. has” to carry out those plans. Putin, speaking with Kelly in Russia, alleged the U.S. had meddled in Russian affairs in the past, but did not offer specifics.
“Let us suppose this was our goal” to interfere in the election, Putin said. “Why, just for the sake of it? What is the goal?”
“Creating chaos. That is the goal,” Kelly answered.
Any chaos in the United States, Putin said, “is not the result of Russian interference, but your political system, the internal struggle, the disorder and division.” He added, “Russia has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Get your own affairs in order first.”
Kelly interviewed Putin in 2017 and was criticized by some observers for not being aggressive enough with the Russian leader. This time, she seemed to press harder and Putin, appearing irritated, asked her to stop interrupting him.
At one point, Kelly wanted Putin to clarify whether he would stop Russians from future political interference.
“It sounds like the answer is no. If I am wrong, please correct me,” Kelly said.
Putin closed his eyes for four seconds and raised his index finger. “I want you to listen to me. We will counter anything that violates current Russian law. If the actions of our citizens — no matter what they are and whom they target — violate current Russian laws, we will respond. If they do not violate Russian law, we cannot respond.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly said Russia tried to influence the election. Last month Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security advisor, said the federal indictment of the 13 provided “incontrovertible” evidence of Moscow’s activities in the 2016 election.