Putin wants dialogue with US intel agencies

US President Donald Trump assailed US intelligence agencies on Wednesday for what he said were illegal information leaks, and dismissed reports of contacts between members of his presidential campaign and Russian intelligence officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking during a meeting of the Federal Security Service's board in Moscow, on Feb 16, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking during a meeting of the Federal Security Service's board in Moscow, on Feb 16, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

His call for joint anti-terror efforts comes as Trump looks to pick ally to review spy agencies

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday called for his country's intelligence agencies to bolster ties with their American counterparts in the fight against terrorism, even as US President Donald Trump looks to appoint an ally to review his own spy agencies.

"Restoring dialogue with the special services of the United States and other Nato members is in our mutual interest," Mr Putin told Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in a televised speech.

"It's not our fault that it stopped and is not developing. It's absolutely obvious that in the sphere of anti-terrorism all responsible states must cooperate."

Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama had slapped sanctions on the FSB, Russia's domestic intelligence agency, and the GRU, its largest foreign intelligence agency, over accusations that they were involved in cyber attacks against the US.

Mr Putin's comments come as Moscow hopes that Mr Trump will make good on his pledge to improve tattered ties with Russia and cooperate in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group.

ANGERED BY LEAKS

The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!

MR DONALD TRUMP, in a tweet accusing his intelligence community of being behind leaks leading to Mr Flynn's resignation.

It also comes as the US President tries to manage the resignation of his national security adviser Michael Flynn, after it emerged that he had discussed US sanctions with the Russian ambassador even before Mr Trump took office.

His administration is already facing heat over reports of its ties to Moscow - following allegations from the US intelligence community that Mr Putin had ordered a hacking and influence campaign to help get Mr Trump elected.

Officials say Mr Trump• plans to assign New York billionaire Stephen Feinberg to lead a broad review of US intelligence agencies. However, members of the intelligence community fear the appointment could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information contradicting the President's world view.

Mr Feinberg is on Mr Trump's economic advisory council and has close ties with his chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Yesterday, US Defence Secretary James Mattis distanced the US from Russia, after Moscow's Defence Minister called for better ties.

"We are not in a position right now to collaborate on a military level, but our political leaders will engage and try to find common ground or a way forward," Mr Mattis told reporters at a Nato summit in Brussels.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had earlier said that Moscow was "ready to restore cooperation with the Pentagon".

Asked whether he believed that Russia had interfered in the US presidential election, Mr Mattis said: "Right now, I would just say there's very little doubt that they have either interfered, or they have attempted to interfere, in a number of elections in democracies."

Mr Putin yesterday also lashed out at Nato over its expansion around Russia's borders - a perennial bugbear for the Kremlin - and said that the US-led alliance was "constantly provoking" Moscow.

"They are always trying to provoke us, constantly provoking and trying to drag us into confrontation," he said.

"Attempts to intervene in our internal affairs with the aim of destabilising the social and political situation inside Russia itself do not stop."

Mr Putin added that the Russian authorities had "blocked the activity" of 53 foreign intelligence officers and 286 agents of overseas agencies last year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Putin wants dialogue with US intel agencies'. Print Edition | Subscribe