Russian President Vladimir Putin took questions Thursday at the Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, an annual meeting between Russian and international scholars with senior-level Russian officials. During his presentation this year, more anticipated than normal given the high-level of tensions between the U.S. and Russia, Putin listed a familiar litany of complaints about Western sanctions and U.S. support for anti-Assad rebels in Syria. He also took a question from the audience about the view of the “foreign mass media” that the Kremlin is favoring Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election. Putin denied it, sort of, saying that the idea was a false notion promoted by “those who represent the interests of the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton against Mr. Trump, the representative of the Republican Party”:
How is this being done? First the image of an enemy is created. That enemy is Russia. Then it is declared that Trump is the Russian favorite. This is nonsense. This is just a way of political struggle, a way to manipulate public opinion on the eve of the election.
Putin said he doesn’t have a favorite because “we do not know how any candidate would act.” However, he added that “we can’t but welcome the words, the ideas, the intentions mentioned in public referring to the normalization of relations between the United States and Russia.” While he didn’t specify, this presumably refers to Trump’s statements that “If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.”
Putin also weighed in with some thoughts on Trump’s public image and campaign strategy:
As for Mr. Trump, he seems to have chosen his own method, his own way to appeal to the electorate. What way is this? He’s being quite extravagant, but I think that this has some underlying meaning because I believe he represents the interests of that part of the American society who are tired of the elite that has been in power for decades. He represents the interests of common people and is playing like a simple guy who criticizes those who have been in power for decades, who don’t like that power can be inherited. This is being said directly by U.S. experts. Whether this is effective for him or not, we will see from the election results, but let me repeat once again that we will work with any president who is elected and who will want to work with us.
Putin’s response as to whether Russia is actively trying to interfere in the election, as the U.S. has alleged, admittedly deserves some credit for cleverness and gall: “Does anyone seriously think that Russia can somehow influence the choice of the American people? Is America a banana republic or what? America is a great power.”