Vladimir Putin trolled the US on Thursday, when speaking in a live call-in show with the Russian nation, the Russian president likened Comey to Edward Snowden, who was granted asylum in Russia in 2013, and scoffed at James Comey's disclosure of his conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying the move has made Comey eligible for political asylum in Russia.
"It looks weird when the chief of a security agency records his conversation with the commander-in-chief and then hands it over to media via his friend," Putin was quoted by Russia's Tass. “This is strange. What is the difference then between the FBI director and Mr. Snowden? He is not a head of the special services, but a human rights activist.”
The trolling concluded when Putin said that "by the way, if he (Comey) is subject to any sort of persecution in connection with this, we will be ready to give him political asylum in Russia. And he should know about this."
Putin also said that Comey has so far presented no evidence to prove that Russia had meddled in the U.S. presidential election, saying Washington had tried to influence Russian elections for years.
"I am not familiar in detail with the testimony given by former FBI director Comey," Putin said during a question and answer session with citizens. "Again, he gave no evidence of this (Russian meddling)."
The remarks reflected Putin's growing annoyance of being the bete noir of the US media, and with the congressional and FBI investigations into links between Trump campaign officials and Russia, which have shattered Moscow's hopes for improving ties with Washington, much to the delight of the US Military-Industrial Complex and, of course, NATO. Predictably, the Russian president once again reiterrated his denial of meddling in the U.S. election, saying that Russia has openly expressed its views and hasn't engaged in any covert activities.
Continuing the combative mood, Putin then turned the tables on the US, saying it was the US which has sought to influence Russian elections by funding NGOs as part of its aspirations for global domination. "Turn a globe and point your finger anywhere, you will find American interests and interference there."
"And what about constant U.S. propaganda, constant U.S. support of America-oriented non-government organisations by giving them money directly? Isn't it an impact on our minds? Isn't it an attempt to influence how we should behave during election campaigns? This continues year after year," he said.
He added that many heads of state around the world had told him of similar U.S. meddling in their internal affairs. But they would not voice their concerns openly, fearing to "spoil relations" with Washington. As for Russia, "we have an opinion of our own, we express it openly. But this is not any sort of underground subversive activity", Putin said.
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On a conciliatory note, Putin added that Russia still hopes for normalization of ties with the U.S. During the question and answer session, Putin said he did not consider the US to be an enemy of Russia and claimed he wanted a "constructive dialogue" with Washington. He said Moscow and Washington could cooperate in efforts to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and pool efforts to tackle the North Korean nuclear and missile problem. He said the two countries could also cooperate in dealing with global poverty and efforts to prevent climate change.
Putin also noted that Moscow hopes that the U.S. could play a "constructive role" in helping settle the Ukrainian crisis, an offer which we doubt will be favorably met by the Pentago.
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During a tightly choreographed marathon TV show, an annual affair that lasts hours, Putin said that Russia has climbed out of recession despite continuing Western sanctions, adding that the restrictions have forced the country to "switch on our brains" to reduce dependence on energy exports. He lamented yesterday's Senate decision Wednesday to impose new sanctions on Russia as a reflection of Western efforts to "contain" Russia, but insisted that the measures have only made the country stronger.
As reported yesterday, the Senate voted to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election by approving a wide-ranging package of sanctions that target key sectors of Russia's economy and individuals who carried out cyberattacks. The Senate bill follows up on several rounds of other sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support for pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine.
Putin argued that Russia has done nothing to warrant the Senate's move, saying it highlights the West's policy of containing Russia and also reflects domestic infighting in the United States. "It's evidence of a continuing internal political struggle in the U.S.," he said.
Russia has responded to the U.S. and EU sanctions by halting most Western food imports, a move that has helped increase Russian agricultural output.
Russian farmers have pleaded with the Kremlin to keep the import ban even if the West lifts its sanctions, but Putin said that if "our partners lift the sanctions against our economy, we will respond in kind."
Discussing the economy, the Russian leader claimed that the "crisis is over," pointing at modest economic growth over the past nine months, low inflation and rising currency reserves. Putin said that a slump in oil prices had been a more important factor in Russia's economic slowdown than the sanctions. Importantly, Putin acknowledged that the Russian economy hasn't yet shed its dependence on exports of raw materials, but noted that non-energy exports have been growing.
Putin also recognized that people's incomes have fallen and 13.5 percent of Russians now live below the poverty line, currently equivalent to $170 per month.
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Most of the questions during the show were about low salaries, decrepit housing, failing health care and other social problems. As in the past, Putin chided local officials for failing to provide due care for people and ordered them to quickly fix the flaws. Even before the show ended, local officials rushed to report that they are looking into the problems.
Putin also offered a glimpse into his closely guarded private life, saying he has two grandchildren whose privacy he wants to respect.
Putin, who in 2013 announced on state television that he was divorcing his wife, has two daughters in their early 30s who haven't been seen in public for years and became the subject of rumors. One of Putin's daughters was reported to be in charge of a lucrative project to build a Silicon Valley-like community under the auspices of Moscow State University.
Putin said during the show that both of his daughters live in Moscow and "work in science and education." He said one of his grandchildren goes to pre-school and the other, a boy, has just been born. He said he doesn't want to give details about his family for fear of hurting their privacy.