MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin has a message for the White House and Democratic leaders who accuse him of stealing their election victory: Don't be sore losers.
That was how Mr Putin answered a question yesterday at his nationally televised annual press conference, about whether Russia interfered in the United States presidential election in favour of Mr Donald Trump.
"Democrats are losing on every front and looking for people to blame everywhere," Mr Putin said in his response to a Russian TV host - one of 1,400 journalists attending the marathon session. "They need to learn to lose with dignity."
He said the Republicans had also won the House and Senate. He asked: "Did we do that, too?"
"Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him," Mr Putin said, adding with a grin, "except for you and me."
Mr Putin has repeatedly denied involvement in the US elections despite the accusations coming from the White House, and the Kremlin has repeatedly questioned the evidence for the US' claims.
DIGGING FOR THE TRUTH
It's not important who did the hacking. It's important that the information that was revealed was true. That is important.
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN
THE TRUMP CARD
Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him... except for you and me.
Yesterday, he borrowed from Mr Trump's dismissal of the accusations, saying: "Maybe it was someone lying on the couch who did it."
"And it's not important who did the hacking. It's important that the information that was revealed was true. That is important," Mr Putin said, referring to the e-mails that showed that party leaders had favoured Mrs Hillary Clinton.
Mr Putin has given one press conference a year, towards the end of December, during the 12 years he has been President - taking a break for the four years he was prime minister.
He deflected a question from an American reporter about whether he will call early elections, which are due in 2018. There has been speculation that he might want to hold elections earlier while his popularity still hovers above 80 per cent.
Mr Putin has not made it clear whether he will run, though any suggestion that he might retire also seems premature.
He reiterated his interest in improving ties with the US after the inauguration of Mr Trump, who has promised to work closely with Russia in the fight against terrorism.
In the wake of the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey this week, Moscow and Ankara have made a show of their willingness to work together and, along with regional power Iran, bring a settlement to Syria.
Mr Putin postponed the press conference by a day to attend the funeral of ambassador Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated in a brazen public shooting by a man shouting slogans about the war in Syria.
Mr Putin deflected a question about Mr Trump's promise to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal, saying Russia was also upgrading its nuclear deterrent, "so that it will be stronger than any aggressor".
He blamed US efforts to develop anti-missile technology for creating "conditions for a new arms race".
He said: "Preconditions for the new arms race were created when the US withdrew from the anti-missile treaty. We are not violating any agreements.
"Representatives of the current US administration started to say that they are the strongest and most powerful in the world. Yes, indeed, they have more rockets, submarines and aircraft carriers. We can't argue with it."
Mr Putin, always concerned about his popularity rating, touted a few positive news items about the Russian economy, hailing what he called record-low inflation of 5.5 per cent, and congratulating villagers on this year's harvest.