MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin said he’s on first-name terms with Donald Trump, as he praised the U.S. leader’s record and blamed allegations of collusion between the Kremlin and the White House on “spy-mania.”
“We see some quite serious achievements, even in this short period of time that he’s been working,” Putin said at his annual press conference in Moscow on Thursday. “Look at the markets, how they’ve risen. That shows investors’ confidence in the American economy, it shows they believe in what President Trump is doing in this area.”
Accusations in the U.S. of ties between Russia and Trump administration officials “are all invented by people who are in opposition to Trump in order to make his work look illegitimate,” Putin said. Those involved show a lack of respect for Trump’s voters, he said. He and Trump, who’s repeatedly highlighted surging U.S. stock markets as evidence his political agenda is succeeding, use first names during their discussions, Putin said.
Putin, 65, is on the offensive after declaring last week that he’ll seek to extend his 18 years in power for another six years in March presidential elections. After Trump came to power in January promising a new era in relations with Putin following tensions under the Obama administration. Instead, Russian frustration is mounting as relations have soured further amid intensifying U.S. investigations into alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election campaign to help Trump win.
The Kremlin and Trump have repeatedly denied the accusations. “Should all contacts be banned?” the Russian leader asked.
Putin began his news conference with a pledge to bolster incomes as he effectively kicked off his election campaign for a fourth term by assuring Russians that the economy is rebounding after the worst recession in two decades.
“Today, there are clear signs of recovery in the economy,” he said, declaring that domestic issues such as health, education, infrastructure and living standards would be his electoral priorities.
While he seeks to become the Kremlin’s longest-serving ruler since Josef Stalin, Russia’s economy risks stagnation after a two-year downturn caused by a slump in oil prices and Western sanctions plunged millions of people into poverty. The central bank has warned that without reforms, not even oil at $100 a barrel would lift medium-term gains in gross domestic product beyond a range of 1.5 percent to 2 percent.
Putin said he’ll run as an independent candidate in the election and that it’s not his job to develop opposition contenders. He criticized activists for simply condemning the authorities rather than offering a genuine alternative
He refused to mention opposition leader Alexey Navalny by name when challenged by declared presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak on why the anti-corruption activist is barred from contesting the election
Putin said he’ll ensure Russia’s security without provoking an arms race
He suggested the FBI was drugging a Russian whistle-blower who disclosed a massive state-run doping program that led to Russia being barred from the 2018 Winter Olympics, in order to manipulate him
Putin also warned the U.S. against resorting to a “catastrophic” use of force over North Korea’s nuclear program, urging diplomacy to resolve the crisis
The Russian leader answered 65 questions over three hours and 40 minutes, an hour short of the record set at his 2008 press conference.