President Vladimir Putin has again dismissed allegations that Russia has been meddling in the U.S. presidential election, saying those claims were just an effort to distract the attention of the U.S. electorate from real issues.
In a wide-ranging speech in which he also defended Russia's actions in Syria, Putin told an annual meeting of foreign academics and analysts on October 27 that allegations of Russian interference in the election were "mythical and fictitious."
He said the United States was using the claims to distract from issues like the federal debt and police violence and it was absurd to say the country could be susceptible to Russia's influence.
"Does anyone seriously think Russia can somehow influence the choice of the American people? Is the U.S. some kind of banana republic? The United States is a great power. Please correct me if I'm wrong," Putin said, triggering laughter in the audience.
The allegations of Russian meddling have become a prominent issue in the campaign between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival, Donald Trump. U.S. intelligence officials recently accused Russia publicly of coordinating the hacks of Clinton's campaign emails.
Putin's comments came during a meeting of the Valdai Club, an invitation-only, government-sponsored gathering that brings together foreign academics and experts on Russia for closed-door discussions with Russian leaders and officials.
Praise For Trump
Putin also gave subtle praise to Republican candidate Donald Trump, saying he had behaved "extravagantly" during the campaign because he represented ordinary voters and wanted to get his message across.
"He has chosen a method to get through to voters' hearts," Putin was quoted as saying.
Clinton has accused Putin of personally ordering the cyberattacks targeting her campaign and prominent current and former U.S. officials in what she characterizes as a Kremlin operation to tilt the election in Trump's favor.
Trump, who has advocated repairing ties with Moscow battered over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, has called this claim absurd and cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community's allegation of Russia's complicity in the cyberattacks.
The Russian leader told the October 27 meeting that claims that Moscow is favoring Trump are "complete nonsense."
'Thwarted' Syrian Peace
Turning to Syria, Putin claimed that his efforts to reach a deal with U.S. President Barack Obama on ending the civil war in Syria have been thwarted by "forces" in Washington.
"A united front to defeat terrorism has in fact not been created," he said. "In Washington there were forces that did their best to ensure our agreements did not take off."
Putin did not elaborate on who in Washington has allegedly scuttled the efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria.
But he told the audience that "my personal agreements with the U.S. president" on the matter "did not work either."
"It seemed that -- after long negotiations, enormous efforts and complicated compromises -- a united front for the struggle against terrorism started taking shape," Putin said. "However, that did not happen."
The Obama administration has accused Moscow of stoking the conflict with ongoing operations in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war against Islamic State militants and more moderate groups seeking his ouster.
Putin defended Moscow's support for the siege of the rebel-held eastern districts of the city of Aleppo by Assad's army, calling it a necessary move in order to defeat militant forces there.
He said there is choice between "keeping a terrorist nest there or crushing that nest while minimizing civilian casualties."
Russia's aerial campaign to support the offensive by Assad's forces on Aleppo has triggered international condemnation, including accusations of repeatedly striking civilian targets.