Putin dismisses scrutiny into Kislyak meetings as ‘hysteria’

Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the scrutiny into his ambassador’s meetings with President Donald Trump’s associates as “hysteria” on Friday and insisted that the Kremlin did not arrange any deal to ease sanctions against the country.

The Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, has been the subject of several recent news reports because of meetings he had with Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner, before the inauguration. The FBI is reportedly examining those meetings as part of its investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia’s suspected attempts to interfere in the election last year.

But Putin, interviewed by NBC’s Megyn Kelly on a panel in St. Petersburg, described the questions about the meetings as “astounding” and “absurd.”

“Our ambassador has met someone,” Putin said through a translator. “And what is an ambassador supposed to do? That’s what he gets money for. He has to hold meetings, have discussions about the current state of affairs, to seek agreement. What do you expect him to do?”

Putin addressed Kislyak’s interactions with Flynn in particular. Flynn was forced to resign just over three weeks into the job in the wake of reports that he had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions against the country with Kislyak during the presidential transition, and then misled the public and Vice President Mike Pence about it.

The Russian president insisted that Flynn and the Kremlin did not come to any agreement to ease the sanctions during those discussions and “never had the time to start the negotiations.”

“Those people who disagree with me will never believe what I will say right now, but I had never known anything about it,” Putin said. “I had never known about anyone meeting anyone. We never agreed on anything. We simply said that we’ve got to think about how we should build our relations.”

“Shouldn’t we think about that? Shouldn’t we do that deliberately and not just recklessly?” he continued. “So you see, it’s surprising. This is some sort of hysteria, and this hysteria never seems to stop. Maybe someone has a pill that is going to cure this hysteria.”

Putin also again denied that the Russian government was behind the cyberattacks targeting Democratic Party officials and Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year, despite the U.S. intelligence community saying it is confident in its conclusion that Russia engineered them to help elect Trump. Putin dismissed the accusation by claiming that the forensic evidence experts cite is not real proof.

The Russian president also accused Democrats of using the question of Russian interference as a scapegoat for their loss and compared their attitude toward Russia to anti-Semitism.

“They made a mistake and they don’t want to recognize this mistake right now. They don’t want to say that they were not wise enough,” Putin said. “It’s easier to say it’s not our fault, it’s all — it’s the Russians. They intervened. They interfered. It’s like anti-Semitism. ‘The Jews are to blame. You’re an idiot because the Jews are to blame,’ right? You know what, such moods lead to — they will not end up, and nothing good. One should work and think how to rectify things.”


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