Trump opponents harm US with ‘invented’ Russia scandal: Putin


International desk, December 14: Russia’s president has accused opponents of his US counterpart Donald Trump of harming the US by “inventing stories” about contacts with Russia.At his annual news conference, Vladimir Putin said contacts between the Trump team and Russian officials before last year’s election were normal.

He said the US opposition was not treating those who elected Mr Trump with respect.

The Trump campaign is being investigated for collusion with Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow tried to sway the presidential election in favour of Mr Trump, but Mr Putin denies the allegations.

“It’s all invented by those in opposition to Trump to make his work seem illegitimate,” Mr Putin said, when asked about the investigation.

He added that Mr Trump was responsible for some “quite serious achievements” but had not been in a position to improve relations with Russia.

He expressed hope that this would happen, adding that globally “there are many things we can do more effectively”.

Call for calm

The Russian president cited North Korea as one possible area of co-operation.

But he said some past actions by the US had provoked North Korea into violating agreements, and all sides needed to calm down.

North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons technology has led to heavy US-led sanctions against the regime.

Earlier Mr Putin addressed the presidential elections, due to be held next year. He has said he will stand for a fourth term.

Asked why he had not faced any effective opponent for the presidency, he said the opposition had to come up with specific proposals to improve people’s lives and had so far not done so.

“It’s not up to me to nurture competitors,” he said. “But… I’ve been thinking that our political environment must be competitive just like the economic environment.

“I hope this will happen, and the sooner the better.”

Mr Putin did not mention opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is banned from standing in the elections because of a criminal conviction.

In response, Mr Navalny tweeted (in Russian) a link to his recently published election programme, with the words: “You’re really trying very hard not to notice this.”

Mr Putin is known for his marathon performances at his news conferences, where he frequently uses hard-hitting, colourful language.

The record for a Putin news conference was set in 2008, at four hours 40 minutes.

This year’s, which is still going on, has also set a record, with 1,640 journalists said to be accredited for the event.

Vladimir Putin: From spy to president

* Born 7 October 1952 in Leningrad (now St Petersburg)

* Studies law and joins KGB after university

* Serves as a spy in communist East Germany – some ex-KGB comrades later get top state posts in Putin era

* 1990s – top aide to St Petersburg mayor Anatoly Sobchak, who had previously taught him law

* Enters Boris Yeltsin’s Kremlin in 1997, made chief of Federal Security Service (the FSB – main successor of the KGB), then prime minister

* New Year’s Eve, 1999 – Yeltsin quits and names him acting president

* Easily wins presidential election in March 2000

* Wins a second term in 2004

* Is barred from running for a third successive term by the Russian constitution, but instead becomes prime minister

* Wins a third presidential term in 2012

Source: Agencies