Russian President Vladimir Putin extolled his close relationship with President Trump and again professed ignorance about the Internet Research Agency troll farm, which is owned by Putin’s close associate and worked to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
In the interview with Austria’s ORF TV, Putin said that he and Trump have “met more than once at international venues” and “regularly talk over the phone,” reports Axios.
Asked why he hasn’t yet had a bilateral summit with Trump, when he met with both Bush and Obama in the first six months of their presidencies, Putin said, “I think that the possibility of these meetings depends to a large extent on the internal political situation in the United States.”
Putin was asked about Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of the Internet Research Agency and a close friend known as “Putin’s chef,” and whether it was cool that he was meddling in Western elections while maintaining a tight relationship with the Kremlin.
“You have just said that Mr. Prigozhin is referred to as ‘Putin’s chef’,” replied Putin. “Indeed, he runs a restaurant business, it is his job; he is a restaurant keeper in St. Petersburg. But now let me ask you: do you really think that a person who is in the restaurant business, even if this person has some hacking opportunities and owns a private firm engaged in this activity – I do not even know what he does – could use it to sway elections in the United States or a European country?”
Putin added: “Could it be that the media and political standards in the countries of the consolidated West have been driven down to such a low level that a Russian restaurant keeper can sway voters in a European country or the United States? Isn’t it ridiculous?”
U.S. intelligence has determined that the “Russian restaurant keeper” oversaw a team of thousands of people who weren’t acting as online Russian food vendors but, rather, masquerading as Americans with fake Facebook and Twitter profiles to foment discord and depress voting for Hillary Clinton.
When the interviewer pressed the point, Putin said, “You can ask him. Russia as a state has nothing to do with this” and, “So what? I know many people in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Ask them.”
Putin then started talking about George Soros, the liberal donor fixated on by conservative U.S. conspiracy theorists, whom Putin said is working to depress the euro.
Putin’s non-answers were similar to those he gave in interviews with NBC’s Megyn Kelly in June 2017 and earlier this year. Then, he denied that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election and suggested that JFK had been assassinated by American spies.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted Concord Management and Consulting, a company owned by Prigozhin, for funding 2016 election meddling. On May 16, an attorney for the company pleaded not guilty during an initial hearing in U.S. district court.