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Putin denies election meddling, is defiant on Navalny crackdown

As US senators ramped up claims that Putin ordered a systematic subversion of the US election, he denounced such "lies." In his first public comments on an opposition crackdown he struck a defiant tone.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected claims that his agencies had meddled in last year's US presidential election.

He dismissed such claims as "lies" and "provocations," saying the contacts that Russian diplomats made in the US were just part of their routine work.

Putin, speaking at an Arctic forum in the northern city of Arkhangelsk, claimed the allegations were concocted to prevent US President Donald Trump from implementing his policies.

"We can see what is happening, the president is being prevented from carrying out his policies," Putin said of Trump.

"It's not in the interests of the majority of American people to take US-Russian relations to the point of absurdity.

"What do we want? To completely end all relations? They are already almost at zero."

Shortly after Putin's comments, the top Democrat on the US Senate intelligence committee investigating those claims said definitively that Putin had ordered a carefully constructed campaign to undermine the election.

Senator Mark Warner alleged Russia continually sought to undermine American trust in the US media with propaganda "on steroids."

Protest crackdown

Putin also remained defiant in the face of criticism about his crackdown on anti-government demonstrations in recent days, in which Russian police arrested hundreds of people at unsanctioned corruption protests across the country.

In his first public comments on the protests, Putin said opposition groups needed to work within the bounds of the law.

"Everybody should act in political processes within the framework of the law. All those who go outside this law should bear punishment in accordance with Russian law," Putin said.

Many Western countries and the United Nations had condemned the recent arrests including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was jailed for 15 days on Monday and had his appeal rejected on Thursday, Russian outlets reported.

"We consider appeals of this sort to be purely politicized questions with the goal of putting some kind of pressure on the internal political life of the country," Putin said.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny at an appeals hearing (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Golovkin)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed for 15 days for his part in protests

Closer cooperation with US

Putin said he wanted to work closely with Trump, and hoped to meet at a possible Arctic conference in Finland in May and at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July.

He said Moscow would support Trump in fighting terrorism and cooperate with the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency.

"It is right that President Trump sets this goal. We will support this work," Putin said.

He said he would discuss efforts to combat terrorism with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Russia and was ready to work with the new U.S. presidential administration on fighting the so-called "Islamic State" in Syria.

aw/kl (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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