Kremlin denies meddling in US election campaign
MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Wednesday denied Moscow was interfering in the US election campaign after President Barack Obama refused to rule out that Russia could be trying to sway the vote in favour of Donald Trump.
Hillary Clinton's campaign has blamed Russia for an embarrassing leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee, propelling the Kremlin to the heart of American political debate as tensions between Moscow and Washington linger months before the US presidential elections.
"President Putin has repeatedly said that Russia has never interfered and does not interfere in internal affairs, especially in the electoral processes of other countries," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Kremlin spokesman had earlier dismissed as "absurd" claims that Russia was involved in the hacking of emails that were released by WikiLeaks.
"Moscow has carefully avoided any actions, any words that could be interpreted as direct or indirect influence on the electoral process," Peskov said.
"If you talk about some suspicions regarding our country, then you need at the very least to be precise and concrete," Peskov added.
Russian political analysts say that the Kremlin has always preferred to work with Republican politicians but play down Russia's actual influence on the vote's outcome.
"The Kremlin has traditionally considered that a Republican administration is more convenient because it is more pragmatic," independent analyst Nikolai Petrov said.
"It does not strive to interfere in internal affairs, in the fight for human rights. In this sense it is easier to negotiate with the Republicans."
Petrov added that Moscow's ability to influence the US election campaign was limited, however, saying it was "not a situation in which Russia could play an active role."
In an interview with NBC News set to air Wednesday, Obama said that "anything was possible" following suggestions that Russia could have been behind the hack.
Obama told NBC he could not speak about the precise motive for the hack or subsequent leak but was aware of Trump's positive comments about the Russian leadership.
"What we do know is that the Russians hack our systems. Not just government systems, but private systems," Obama said.
Trump has made no secret of his admiration for President Putin, leading some to suggest the Kremlin strongman was working to help propel the real estate billionaire into the White House.
In December last year, Putin praised Trump as "a very striking man, unquestionably talented".
"It's not up to us to judge his virtues, that is up to US voters, but he is the absolute leader of the presidential race," Putin said.
Trump responded by hailing Putin as a "strong leader, a powerful leader".
Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday that Putin had called him a "genius".
Although the Kremlin has more experience working with Clinton, who served as US Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 and was US First Lady for eight years, it would find Trump "easier to negotiate with," according to Petrov.
Putin and Clinton have a history of directing jabs at each other, with the Kremlin strongman calling Clinton "weak" in a 2014 interview on French television.
He was speaking after Clinton compared Putin's meddling in Ukraine to aggression by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, drawing scorn from the Kremlin.
Analysts say that Trump's calls to revamp US-Russia relations are in the Kremlin's interests and have added weight to its preference for the Republican candidate.
Asked about his attitude to Trump last month, Putin said: "Mr Trump has said that he is ready for a full-scale revival of Russian-American relations. What's wrong with that? We welcome that."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, speaking Tuesday on CNN, refused to confirm or deny that Russia was the source of the emails his organisation leaked.
"We like to create maximum ambiguity as to who our sources are," Assange said.
"Perhaps one day the source or sources will step forward and that might be an interesting moment. Some people will have egg on their faces."