By Vladimir Soldatkin and Jack Stubbs
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday the United States was in the grip of a fabricated spymania whipped up by President Donald Trump’s opponents but he thought battered U.S.-Russia relations would recover one day.
Putin also praised the U.S. president for what he said were his achievements.
“I’m not the one to evaluate the (U.S.) president’s work. That needs to be done by the voters, the American people,” Putin told his annual news conference in Moscow, in answer to a question.
“(But) we are objectively seeing that there have been some major accomplishments, even in the short time he has been working. Look at how the markets have grown. This speaks to investors’ trust in the American economy.”
Trump took office in January, saying he was keen to mend ties which had fallen to a post-Cold War low. But since then, ties have soured further after U.S. officials said Russia meddled in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.
Congress is also investigating alleged contacts between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials amid fears that Moscow may have tried to exercise improper influence.
Putin dismissed those allegations and the idea of a Russia connection as “fabricated”.
“This is all invented by people who oppose Trump to give his work an illegitimate character. The people who do this are dealing a blow to the state of (U.S.) domestic politics,” he added, saying the accusations were disrespectful to U.S. voters.
Moscow understood that Trump’s scope to improve ties with Russia was limited by the scandal, said Putin, but remained keen to try to improve relations.
Washington and Moscow had many common interests, he said, citing the Middle East, North Korea, international terrorism, environmental problems and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“You have to ask him (Trump) if he has such a desire (to improve ties) … or whether it has disappeared. I hope that he has such a desire,” said Putin.
“We are normalising our relations and will develop (them) and overcome common threats.”
Putin, who is running for re-election in March, agreed with a questioner who said he faced no credible high-profile political opponents, but pledged to work to try to create a more balanced political system.
The promise drew mockery from his critics, who accuse him of using state TV, the courts and the police to demonise and marginalise the liberal opposition.
He seems sure to win comfortably in March and extend his grip on power into a third decade.
He said he planned to run as an independent candidate and garner support from more than one party, in a sign the former KGB officer may be keen to strengthen his image as a “father of the nation” rather than as a party political figure.
Putin said it was too early to set out his electoral programme, but named priority issues as helping forge what he called a flexible political system, nurturing a high-tech economy, improving infrastructure, healthcare, education and productivity and increasing people’s real incomes.
Putin, 65, has been in power, either as president or prime minister, since the end of 1999.
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; writing by Andrew Osborn; editing by Andrew Roche)