Vladimir Putin slams 'pathetic' US forces ready to sacrifice Russia ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives to international organisations during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on July 19, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives to international organisations during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, on July 19, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday (July 19) slammed the US opposition to Mr Donald Trump as "pathetic, worthless people" who were willing to sacrifice Russian-US ties to their own ambitions.

Mr Putin made the comments in a speech to Russian diplomats in Moscow after holding a summit in Helsinki with Mr Trump that has ignited a political firestorm in the US.

In a toughly-worded speech, Mr Putin said US-Russia ties were by "some parameters" worse than during the Cold War and took aim at the US establishment.

"We see that there are forces in the US that are easily ready to sacrifice Russian-American relations for their own ambitions," Mr Putin said.

"We see that there are forces in the US that put their narrow party interests higher than national ones," he added, describing them as "pathetic, worthless people", a well-known quote from Soviet satirists Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov.

Yet he added that these forces are "on the contrary rather powerful and strong if they are able to sell - forgive me my bad manners - to their citizens, millions of their citizens, various illogical things that are hard to digest".

Going into Monday's (July 16) meeting in Helsinki, Mr Trump said he wanted to improve relations with Russia, which he characterised as the worst they have ever been.

But he stunned both allies and enemies, who criticised him for taking the Russian leader's word over that of US intelligence that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.

Many accused Mr Trump of being a "traitor", saying his performance in Helsinki only deepened rumours that the Kremlin may have compromising information on him and sparked talk of new sanctions against Russia.

In Moscow on Thursday, Mr Putin said Russia was still open to building a good relationship with the US.

"We need a new positive agenda, aimed at working together and finding common ground," he said, adding it would take time to see a genuine improvement in ties.

"It would be naive to think that problems that have been accumulating for years would be solved in a matter of hours."

Under pressure at home, the US leader's position on Russian interference has shifted repeatedly in recent days.

Strikingly, Mr Trump said he misspoke when he appeared to take Mr Putin's denial of interference at face value and said he accepts Moscow sought to influence the 2016 vote.

He offered a twisted explanation of his assertion in Helsinki that he could not see "any reason" why Russia would interfere.

"In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word 'would' instead of 'wouldn't'," Mr Trump said.

"The sentence should have been, 'I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia.' Sort of a double negative," he added.

He also said he accepted the view of US intelliegence that Moscow had in fact meddled but he continued to raise doubts, saying there "could be other people also; there's a lot of people out there".

Democratic lawmakers even pushed for Congress to subpoena Mr Trump's summit interpreter to find out what transpired during his private meeting with Mr Putin.

Even some in Mr Trump's party signalled they had had enough of his wrecking ball diplomacy and sought to take steps to box him in.

On Wednesday (July 18), Mr Trump drew fresh scorn for questioning Nato's core "one for all and all for one" principle in attacking "tiny" Montenegro, whose accession to the alliance enraged Moscow.

"Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people," Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox News. "They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III."

On Thursday, Montenegro's government defended its contribution to peace in response, saying the country "contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, along with US soldiers in Afghanistan".

It also added that it has served as a "stabilising" force in the region, which was ravaged by wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.