MOSCOW (AP) — Top Russian officials on Wednesday ridiculed allegations that U.S. President Donald Trump could have worked for Moscow’s interests, dismissing them as “absurd” and “stupid.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference that U.S. media reports claiming that Trump might have been a Russian agent reflect a dramatic plunge in standards of journalism.
Trump said this week that he never worked for Russia and repeated his claim that the investigation into his ties to Moscow is a hoax.
Asked if Russia could release the minutes of Trump’s one-on-one negotiations with President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov dismissed the idea, saying it defies the basic culture of diplomacy. He added that such requests reflect illegitimate meddling in the U.S. president’s constitutional right to conduct foreign policy.
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, similarly derided the claims in the U.S. that Trump might have worked for Russian interests.
“What kind of nonsense are you asking about?” Ushakov snapped when asked if Trump was a Russian agent. “How can one comment on such a stupid thing? It has reached such a scale that it’s awkward to even talk about it.”
“How can a president of the United States be an agent of another country, just think yourself,” Ushakov said at a briefing.
The Kremlin’s hopes for better relations with the U.S. under Trump have been shattered by ongoing investigations into the allegations of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Ushakov noted that Russia-U.S. relations are currently at a level that “can’t be worse.”
Lavrov, who was speaking at a separate news conference, noted that a probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller has produced no evidence of Trump’s collusion with Russia.
He particularly scoffed at the charges leveled against Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that he only talked to the Russian ambassador in a bid to protect U.S. interests.
“It’s quite obvious that the situation is absurd,” Lavrov said about the U.S. investigation.
He also sharply criticized Washington for its intention to opt out of a key nuclear pact over alleged Russian violations.
Lavrov noted that earlier this week the U.S. has ignored Moscow’s proposal to inspect a Russian missile that Washington claims has violated a nuclear arms treaty.
He said that Russia made the offer during talks in Geneva earlier this week but the U.S. negotiators stonewalled the proposal, repeating Washington’s demand that Russia destroys the 9M729 missile it claimed violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
“Our questions why the Americans don’t want to examine our proposals and get first-hand information about specific parameters of the missile were left unheard,” he said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson said in Tuesday’s statement following the talks in Geneva that “the meeting was disappointing as it is clear Russia continues to be in material breach of the treaty.”
Lavrov charged that the U.S. refusal to consider the Russian offer to have a close look at the missile reflects Washington’s intention to abandon the INF treaty.
Turning to last month’s arrest in Moscow of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, on suspicion of espionage, Lavrov said the man’s brother has visited Moscow and has been briefed about prison conditions. The Interfax news agency later carried the Foreign Ministry’s statement saying that Whelan’s brother isn’t in the Russian capital.
The U.S. Embassy wouldn’t comment.
Lavrov rejected the allegations that Russian authorities could have arrested Whelan in order to swap him for one of the Russians held in the U.S., saying “we don’t do such things.” He said Whelan was caught red-handed and the investigation is ongoing.
Whelan holds citizenship from U.S., Britain, Ireland and Canada, and Lavrov said Russia will allow consular visits.
Speaking on other issues, Lavrov insisted that Moscow isn’t taking any sides in the controversy over Britain’s exit from the European Union. He rejected allegations that Russia was gloating in the turmoil, saying that Russia is interested in seeing a “united, strong and, most importantly, independent European Union.”
Commenting on the situation in Syria, Lavrov said that Moscow expects the Syrian government to take over territory in the country’s east following the planned U.S. military withdrawal.