Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president (Photographer: Yorgos Karahalis/Bloomberg)

Putin Vents Frustration at U.S. `Schizophrenia' on Trump Ties

(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed frustration that U.S. “political schizophrenia” over Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia is wrecking efforts to foster a new era of partnership between their countries.

Allegations that President Trump passed highly classified intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at White House talks are intended to incite “anti-Russian sentiment” and destabilize U.S. politics, Putin told reporters in Sochi on Wednesday. Those making such claims “either don’t understand that they are harming their own country, which means they are just dumb, or they understand everything and then they are dangerous and unscrupulous people,” he said.

Putin is coming to the conclusion that it’s impossible to normalize ties with the U.S., said Fyodor Lukyanov head of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council, an advisory body to the Kremlin. “Trump’s hands are totally tied,” he said.

Trump entered the White House in January after repeatedly praising Putin during the U.S. presidential election campaign and pledging to join Russia in fighting Islamic State. After years of confrontation with the Obama administration over Russian backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Kremlin’s eager to involve the U.S. in its plans to set up safe zones in the Middle Eastern country to help resolve the six-year war. Trump also hinted during the campaign that he may end sanctions imposed in 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

‘Political Struggle’

The stream of controversies over Russia since Trump took office means there’s been little or no movement on any of these issues. The Oval Office meeting with Lavrov last week took place a day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading investigations into possible collusion by Trump associates in Russian interference with the U.S. elections. The New York Times reported Tuesday that a February memo written by Comey alleged that Trump asked him to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, a day after Flynn was ousted for misleading the White House over details of his conversations with Russia’s U.S. ambassador.

“At first, when we saw how this process of political struggle is developing, it made us laugh,” Putin said. “Today it’s not just sad, it’s a matter of concern to us, because what else can you think about people who generate such nonsense?”
While they’ve spoken by phone three times, Putin and Trump have yet to meet in person despite early hopes of a summit between the two presidents. Officials have said the first face-to-face talks may take place at the July 7-8 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. Even so, while both sides “hope” for a meeting in Hamburg, “no specific agreement has been reached so far,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters Wednesday.

‘Reprimand’ Lavrov

Trump’s meeting with Lavrov was his first as president with a top Russian official. Putin said the controversy over the talks was “nonsense,” and Russia “highly valued” the contact. He offered to provide a transcript to the U.S. Congress to prove that Trump didn’t give away any secrets, “if the American administration would like that, of course.”

Putin joked that he’d have to “reprimand” Lavrov because he hasn’t “shared any secrets with me or with representatives of Russian special services” from the meeting. Russia “has no intention of interfering” in domestic U.S. political conflicts and it’s up to the American people to judge Trump’s work as president, he said.

Republican Senator Susan Collins said it would be “absurd” to get any evidence from the Russians and suggested that Trump should stop meeting with representatives from Moscow.

Speaking on CNN, Collins said she “can’t help but wonder if this is a Russian plot to undermine confidence further” in the president and U.S. democracy. “But unfortunately when the president meets with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador he gives more fuel to the fire.”

‘Absolute Right’

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Trump defended sharing information about Islamic State threats to airline safety with Russian officials at the meeting, saying he had an “absolute right” to do so. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the president’s disclosures, first reported by the Washington Post, were “wholly appropriate.” The Post reported that U.S. officials were concerned that Trump had disclosed highly classified information from an ally that could be enough to enable the Russians to identify the source. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the information came from Israel.

U.S. presidents in the past have either intentionally or inadvertently released classified information about surveillance capabilities and intelligence that was collected. The president has broad authority to declassify information so it’s not likely that Trump broke the law, according to the Post, even though he shared it with a U.S. adversary.

Putin took another dig at the controversy at his news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni by telling reporters that he’d handed over a message for leaders of the Group of Seven nations who meet in Italy next week for their annual summit.

It’s a “secret” message, Putin said.