Putin praises Trump, blames 'spy mania' for meddling claims

Russian leader keen to improve US ties despite election probe

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday offered warm words for United States leader Donald Trump, dismissing allegations of links between the Kremlin and the White House as "some sort of spy mania".

"We see some quite serious achievements, even in this short period of time that he's been working," Mr Putin said at his annual press conference in Moscow yesterday. "Look at the markets, how they've risen. That shows investors' confidence in the American economy, it shows they believe in what President Trump is doing in this area," he said.

Mr Trump has repeatedly highlighted surging US stock markets as evidence that his political agenda is succeeding.

Mr Putin said accusations of links between Russia and the Trump administration were " all invented by people who are in opposition to Trump in order to make his work look illegitimate".

Russian frustration is mounting after Mr Trump came to power in January promising a new era in relations following tensions under the Obama administration.

Instead, relations have soured further amid intensifying US investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign that was aimed at helping Mr Trump win. The Kremlin and Mr Trump have repeatedly denied the accusations.

Mr Putin said Moscow understood that Mr Trump's scope to improve ties with Russia was limited by the scandal but he remained keen to try to improve relations.

Washington and Moscow had many common interests, he said, citing the Middle East, North Korea, international terrorism, environmental problems and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

"You have to ask him (Trump) if he has such a desire (to improve ties)... or whether it has disappeared. I hope that he has such a desire," said Mr Putin. "We are normalising our relations and will develop (them) and overcome common threats."

The Russian leader was holding court after declaring last week that he would seek to extend his 18 years in power for another six years in the March presidential elections.

He began the news conference with a pledge to bolster incomes, effectively kicking off his election campaign by assuring Russians that the economy is rebounding after the worst recession in two decades, and declaring that domestic issues like health, education, infrastructure and living standards would be his electoral priorities.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'Putin praises Trump, blames 'spy mania' for meddling claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe