U.S. President Barack Obama has chastised U.S. Republicans for warming to Russian President Vladimir Putin, following the lead of President-elect Donald Trump.
Obama cited a recent poll that found that 37 percent of self-identified Republicans had a favorable view of the Russian leader, although 47 percent retained the party's traditionally unfavorable view. By contrast, the public opinion survey found that 74 percent of U.S. Democrats viewed Putin unfavorably.
"Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave," Obama said at his year-end press conference at the White House on December 16.
"Some of the people who historically have been very critical of me for engaging with the Russians and having conversations with them also endorsed the President-elect [Donald Trump], even as he was saying that we should stop sanctioning Russia and being tough on them, and work together with them against our common enemies," Obama said.
"He was very complimentary of Mr. Putin personally. That wasn't news," Obama continued. "The president-elect during the campaign said so. And some folks who had made a career out of being anti-Russian didn't say anything about it. And then after the election, suddenly they’re asking, well, why didn't you tell us that maybe the Russians were trying to help our candidate? Well, come on."
Obama called Russia a smaller and “weaker” country than the United States, saying it "does not produce anything that others want to buy" except oil, natural gas, and military weaponry.
"The Russians can't change us or significantly weaken us," Obama said. "They are a smaller country. They are a weaker country. Their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas, and arms. They don't innovate."
But Obama said Russia can "impact" the United States if Americans "lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values" and if Americans "start buying into notions that it's okay to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like."
While Reagan viewed what was then the Soviet Union as an "evil empire," Trump has departed sharply from Republican orthodoxy in saying he wants to mend relations with Russia and work with the Kremlin to defeat terrorists.
Trump named ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a friend of Putin's, as his choice for secretary of state.
Some prominent Republicans in Congress continue to take a hard line toward Russia, however, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (Republican-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina).
Addressing the postelection controversy over Russian campaign of e-mail hacking, Obama strongly defended his administration's response, including his refusal before the voting to ascribe motive to the meddling or to discuss now what effect it might have had.
Obama said that he confronted Putin at a Group of 20 summit in China in September over the Russian hacking campaign, telling the former KGB chief to "cut it out."
Obama noted that the United States could retaliate, saying "whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them."
Asked to state unequivocally whether he thinks Putin ordered Russian hacking attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chief John Podesta in order to help Trump win the U.S. presidential election, Obama said: "Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there's not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States."
"We have said, and I will confirm, that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government," Obama continued. "And I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off, rogue, and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it."