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27 October 2016

Putin: Trump Speaks for the People

Donald Trump reflects the needs of average people “who don’t like that power is being transferred by inheritance.”

MOSCOW—President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin has no preference in the U.S. presidential elections but Republican candidate Donald Trump does reflect the needs of average people who don’t like that power is being transferred by inheritance.”

Mr. Trump “is, of course, extravagant,” Mr. Putin said during a televised conference in the southern city of Sochi. “He simply represents the interests of simple people who criticize those who have been in power for decades.”

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign has suggested that Russia is backing Mr. Trump, citing the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic National Committee, hacking that U.S. security officials blame on Russia.

Mr. Putin said that Russia’s support for Mr. Trump had been invented by Western media, and that it was part of a “political battle, an attempt to manipulate public opinion on the eve of elections.” He said the Kremlin would welcome any candidate who expressed a desire for improved relations with Moscow.

“For us, it doesn’t really make a difference but of course we can’t not welcome words, thoughts, intentions that are publicly expressed about normalizing relations between the U.S. and Russia,” he said.

The Kremlin has long been critical of the democratization agenda pursued overseas by the U.S. and supported actively by Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Putin has often accused Washington of using democracy promotion as a front for regime change, with the U.S. both openly and covertly funding groups supporting democracy in Russia.

He dismissed the idea that Moscow could have some impact on the U.S. elections.

“Does anybody seriously think that Russia could somehow influence the choice of the American people?” he said. “Is it a banana republic or something? America is a great power.”

Earlier this month, U.S. intelligence agencies directly accused the Russian government of trying to interfere in the elections by leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee and other entities.

Mr. Putin criticized the U.S. election campaign, saying that political issues had been “watered down.”

“Elections have stopped being an instrument of change, and have been reduced to scandals, to mudslinging, to questions of who pinched whom and who is sleeping with whom,” he said.

The Russian leader also criticized the West for propagating what he called the “fictional, mythical” military threat Moscow poses to the rest of the world.

“It’s truly a profitable activity. This way they can push through new military budgets in their countries, they can bend allies to the interests of one superpower, they can expand NATO and move its infrastructure, troops, and equipment closer to our borders,” he said.

Ties between Russia and the West were frayed by the Ukrainian conflict of 2014, and relations have soured further in recent months as a cease-fire in Syria, brokered by Russia and the U.S., broke down almost immediately. The U.S. said earlier this month it was suspending talks with Russia because of its role in Aleppo, where Russia has been accused of helping Syria in the aerial bombardment of the city.

Relations with Europe have withered, too. Mr. Putin canceled a trip to Paris after calls by the French foreign minister to investigate Moscow for war crimes for its role in the Aleppo bombings, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her government would consider new sanctions against Moscow. Over objections from Italy, European Union leaders backed off immediate threats of sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Putin on Thursday placed the blame for the breakdown of the Syrian cease-fire squarely on the U.S., where he said political forces had worked to undermine the deal.

“In Washington there were forces who did everything so that these [agreements over Syria] were not implemented in practice,” he said. “It would have seemed that after lengthy negotiations, huge efforts, and difficult compromises, we would have finally formulated a united front against terrorism, but that’s not what happened.”