Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected allegations of Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election and said opponents of U.S. President Donald Trump spread the accusations to undermine his legitimacy.
Speaking at his annual marathon news conference in Moscow, Putin expressed hope that U.S.-Russia relations will normalize.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded Putin ordered a campaign meant to influence the U.S. vote with a preference for Trump to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.Trump has said his campaign did not collude with Russia.
Putin said Thursday that Russia is worried about the United States pulling out of arms control agreements, while his country will continue to abide by the pacts.He also said Russia’s military will develop as it needs to without getting into an arms race with the United States.
On North Korea, Putin said a use of force by the United States would have “catastrophic consequences.”He said Russia does not accept North Korea’s nuclear status and blamed the United States for provoking North Korea to develop its nuclear program.
A week after the International Olympic Committee ruled Russian athletes cannot compete under the country’s flag at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Putin said the ban is politically motivated.
The Russian leader told reporters the country should have a more competitive political system and that when he runs for re-election next year he will do so as an independent candidate instead of under the United Russia party.
Putin has served as either prime minister or president of Russia since 1999 and announced last week his plan to run for re-election for a term that would run through 2024.He is widely expected to win.
He said the government needs to focus on health care, education and infrastructure development.He said opposition parties lack a strong candidate to go against him in the elections.
Opponents have accused Putin of using law enforcement and the judicial system to stymie rivals.