MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed a new report by U.S. Senate Democrats describing Russian interference in the U.S. and throughout Europe as unfounded and President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of “aggressive” overreaction. Some European politicians said they are mindful of Moscow’s meddling.
The 200-page report commissioned by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the first from Congress to detail alleged Russian efforts to undermine democracies since the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Commenting on the report, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that “the accusations of alleged meddling leveled against our country are absolutely unfounded.”
Speaking in a conference call Thursday with reporters, Peskov said that “such paranoid concerns not only hurt bilateral relations, but the U.S. itself.”
“When it grows into an obsession, it doesn’t create comfortable conditions for normal social development and life,” he said.
Speaking at a televised meeting with Russian newspaper editors, Putin pointed at what he described as U.S. meddling in other countries’ affairs, adding that “if they poke their nose everywhere they must be able to respond to certain challenges they provoke themselves.”
“But please don’t interpret it like a recognition of our meddling, we haven’t meddled,” he added. “I want to underline again — it’s sheer nonsense. There has been no collusion, no interference on our part.”
“No one likes interference in their internal political issues and affairs; our American friends especially do not like it,” Putin said. “We see their reaction to unreliable information about our intervention, how sharp it is, I would even say how aggressive it is.”
The Russian leader didn’t specifically mention the Cardin report.
No Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed on to Cardin’s inquiry, which directly blamed Putin for a “relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States.”
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. election to help Donald Trump, a Republican, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. The congressional and the FBI investigations into the Russian meddling have haunted Trump, thwarting Russia’s hopes for better ties with the U.S. under his administration.
Putin said that Russia remains willing to improve ties with the U.S., but added that the U.S. political infighting makes it difficult.
“The domestic political situation in the U.S. isn’t calming down,” he said. “They are playing the Russian card in the U.S. politics, and they are threatening the incumbent president with impeachment, using the alleged Russian interference as an argument.”
Russia also has rejected allegations of interfering with European elections.
Asked about claims of Russian interference in Italy’s election later this year, Putin strongly rejected the allegations as a “provocation” from outside powers, arguing that Moscow has “very good relations with various political forces” in the country.
“It doesn’t even occur to us to meddle into any elections, including Italy,” Putin said. “No matter what force comes to power in Italy, there is a national consensus there for the development of relations with Russia. Why would we do it?”
The report by Senate Democrats didn’t raise eyebrows in European capitals, where purported cases of Russian meddling are already widely known or reported.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday that “attempts at disinformation in the digital domain,” some of which “originate from Russian sources” have worried Berlin.
“It’s a factor that has changed digital communications in recent years, not just in Germany but in many European countries and certainly also in the United States,” he told reporters in Berlin. “We are certainly looking at this a lot more closely than we were two or three years ago, because the phenomenon has increased. And we are talking about this and cooperating with European partners.”
The French government’s digital affairs chief, Mounir Mahjoubi, vaunted a new plan by President Emmanuel Macron to outlaw fake news during election campaigns in response to attempts at political manipulation.
Asked whether the U.S. is doing enough to combat it, Mahjoubi said in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday that “the U.S. and Facebook have already joined the worldwide community talking about this subject, and what happened during the American election and the French election and other European elections.”
“This is a very important debate ... in the U.S., in France and Europe,” he said.
Mahjoubi didn’t mention specific measures against Russia, but Macron earlier has accused Russian state-funded RT television and Sputnik news agency of propagating lies about him during last year’s presidential campaign. Sputnik notably reported rumors that Macron was having a gay affair, which Macron denied.
France was praised in Cardin’s report for concerted government efforts to prevent hacking and other outside intervention in the 2017 French presidential campaign.
Commenting on the report from Denmark, Jens Worning Soerensen, Denmark’s former consul general in St. Petersburg and director of the Policy Group think tank, said that “we all know what is happening, but no one knows right now how it is orchestrated and how coordinated it is.”
Soerensen warned that the insufficient U.S. support for European efforts to counter the Russian meddling will mean “insecurity will spread,” adding there is a fear that “that there will be attempts to influence elections.”
“It is hard to assess what the consequences will be, but we have seen how Russia has financed pro-Moscow groups, for instance right-wing groups,” he said.
Angela Charlton reported from Paris. Jim Heintz in Moscow, Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.