(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin charged Thursday that the “elite” in the U.S. were trying to divert voters’ attention away from acute problems like the national debt, gun violence and police shootings by accusing Russia of trying to influence the election.
“Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice?” he asked during an address in Sochi. “America is not some kind of banana republic after all, but is a great power,” he added. “Do correct me if I am wrong.”
According to the Kremlin’s translation of Putin’s words in Russian (which differed slightly from the live interpretation dubbed over the official video), the president said “hysteria” had been whipped up over supposed Russian meddling in the election.
The U.S. intelligence community has accused Russia of being behind the theft and public release – via Wikileaks – of thousands of emails linked to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The Democratic nominee claims that the alleged Russian hacking is designed to boost her Republican rival, Donald Trump.
Putin sounded bemused by the attention devoted to the matter in the recent series of Clinton-Trump debates.
“The United States has plenty of genuinely urgent problems, it would seem, from the colossal public debt to the increase in firearms violence and cases of arbitrary action by the police,” Putin said.
“You would think that the election debates would concentrate on these and other unresolved problems,” he continued, “but the elite has nothing with which to reassure society, it seems, and therefore attempt to distract public attention by pointing instead to supposed Russian hackers, spies, agents of influence and so forth.”
Putin also alluded to some of the less savory issues to have arisen during the presidential campaign, and suggested there was little to choose between the candidates.
Elections, he said, had become “nothing but scandals and digging up dirt – who gave someone a pinch, who sleeps with whom, if you’ll excuse me. This just goes beyond all boundaries.”
“And honestly, a look at various candidates’ platforms gives the impression that they were made from the same mold – the difference is slight, if there is any.”
Putin says it’s ‘nonsense’ that he favors Trump
Putin’s comments came during a wide-ranging speech at the annual meeting in Sochi of the Valdai Discussion Club, a 14-year-old Russian dialogue initiative.
Elsewhere during the event, he had more to say on Trump, whom he said represented the interests of those parts of society tired of the establishment.
“He is representing the interests of ordinary people and wants to portray himself as an ordinary lad who is criticizing those who have been in power for decades and those who dislike the idea of transferring power by descent,” ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.
Putin dismissed as “nonsense and lunacy” Democrats’ allegations that he favored Trump, calling them an attempt to manipulate public opinion ahead of the election in a bid to help Clinton.
He said he welcomed any candidate calling for improved relations with Russia, but cautioned that no-one can tell what a successful candidate will actually do once in power.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said earlier this month the intelligence community was confident the Russian government was behind the compromise of data including the campaign emails.
“These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process,” they said in a statement. “We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
Putin’s speech in Sochi touched on many of the Russian leader’s gripes about the West, which he accuses of trying to dominate the globe since the collapse of the Soviet Union (a development which Putin years ago described as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.”)
“Some countries that saw themselves as victors in the Cold War – not just saw themselves this way but said it openly – took the course of simply reshaping the global political and economic order to fit their own interests,” he said.
Those countries, he said, abandoned dialogue with other players and tried to bring the entire world under their sway.
He criticized the U.S. and its allies over NATO’s expansion and for military campaigns in Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and accused them of arming and training “terrorist groups in the hope of using them to achieve their own political aims.”
The latter is presumably a reference to Syria, where the U.S. and allies are supporting some rebels who are fighting against both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. For its part, the U.S. disputes Russia’s claim to be fighting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, saying its air campaign in Syria is primarily in support of Assad.
Elaborating on his view of the international political situation, Putin pointed to the rise of populist sentiment and movements, attributing them to the realization that most people, even in the most advanced democracies, have no real influence on power.
“Public movements that only recently were too far left or too far right are taking center stage and pushing the political heavyweights aside,” he said, portraying them not as fringe groups, but comprising “ordinary people, ordinary citizens who are losing trust in the ruling class.”