MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin suggested in a US television interview that Ukrainians, Tatars or “Jews,” could have meddled in the 2016 US presidential election — but not the Kremlin.
“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin asked in the often-combative interview with NBC television.
The leading US intelligence agencies concluded last year that Putin personally directed an intelligence effort to influence the 2016 US presidential election to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and boost Republican Donald Trump.
Last month US Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a widespread probe into Russia’s role in the campaign, indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for allegedly backing Trump, maligning Clinton, and engaging in other election interference.
“So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the allegations, according to transcripts of the NBC interview released late Friday.
“There are 146 million Russians. So what?… I don’t care. I couldn’t care less… They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”
“Maybe,” Putin said, “they are not even Russians but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked; maybe they have dual citizenship or a green card; maybe the US paid them for this.
“How can you know that? I do not know either.”