American officials have accused Russian-backed hackers of trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election by leaking Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied this. But in doing so, he also questioned the nature of the American democracy, and threw a little love to his bro, GOP nominee Donald Trump.
Speaking during a televised conference in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Putin said Moscow was not involved in the hacks. “Does anybody seriously think that Russia could somehow influence the choice of the American people?” he said. “Is it a banana republic or something? America is a great power.”
As for backing Trump, Putin dismissed that theory outright, even though the pair have traded pleasantries. Instead, the Russian strongman suggested the outcome of the American businessman’s candidacy will be determined by the Western media, and that the budding Putin-Trump bromance was part of a “political battle, an attempt to manipulate public opinion on the eve of elections.”
Continuing, Putin said Trump speaks for people “who don’t like that power is being transferred by inheritance.”
Trump “is, of course, extravagant,” Putin added. “He simply represents the interests of simple people who criticize those who have been in power for decades.”
Putin’s shadow has loomed large over the 2016 presidential race. On the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly praised the Russian leader for commanding more respect than Clinton or President Barack Obama. Putin has called Trump “colorful.” But the real specter of the Kremlin looms as emails from Clinton or people connected to her — stolen by hackers backed by Russia, according to U.S. intelligence officials — steadily leak out in the runup to the election 12 days away.
So far, the leaked messages have done little to sway the electorate. Most polls show Clinton with a comfortable lead over Trump. But it has forced her camp to continuously answer queries about them, keeping her private email in the news cycle.
The Russian president also gave his thoughts on the state of the American electoral process, calling it “watered down.”
“Elections have stopped being an instrument of change, and have been reduced to scandals, to mudslinging, to questions of who pinched whom and who is sleeping with whom,” he said, adding, “It doesn’t really make a difference, but of course we can’t not welcome words, thoughts, intentions that are publicly expressed about normalizing relations between the U.S. and Russia.”
Heady words from a man who suppresses his country’s media, jails opponents, and stands accused of multiple human rights violations. If Trump does pull off an upset and win on Nov. 8, it’s doubtful Putin’s transgressions will be on the agenda at a pre-inauguration meeting suggested by the GOP nominee.
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