The Kremlin has accused the United States of trying to set the Russian business elite against President Vladimir Putin ahead of a March 2018 election that is expected to hand him a new six-year term.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, used what he said was a series of written questions from an international news agency as a platform to make the accusation on November 30.
He said that one of the questions was, "Do you agree with the opinion that the U.S. authorities are using sanctions [against Russia] in order to set wealthy supporters of the Russian president against him?"
Peskov said he had answered, "I am sure that this is the exactly the case."
Another alleged question cited by Peskov was, "Do you think that such U.S. efforts are linked to the presidential election?"
"We are convinced of this," Peskov said he had answered.
The United States has imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, its role in the war that has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine, and its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, is widely expected to announce in December that he will seek reelection in the March 18 vote.
His popularity and control over the levers of power in Russia, where critics say the Kremlin has manipulated the media and stifled dissent, make his victory a foregone conclusion.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, meanwhile, told journalists on November 30 that if Putin decides to take part in the election, the ruling United Russia party will support him.
Medvedev, who is chairman of United Russia, spoke in an annual interview with major Russian TV networks.
It is obvious that United Russia will support Putin if he seeks reelection, but Medvedev's remark may have been meant as a gesture of support and a further signal that Putin will do so.
There is speculation that Putin could dismiss Medvedev -- whom he steered into the presidency in 2008 and made prime minister when he started his third term in 2012 -- before or after the election.
In the televised interview, Medvedev said that Western sanctions and the plunge in world oil prices, which also occurred in 2014, had presented "the harshest and most unusual challenge" to his government.
He asserted that the government had managed to face the challenge and enabled the economy -- which emerged this year from a recession that began in 2014 -- to recover "faster than expected."
With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and Reuters