MOSCOW: Russia’s government on Monday insisted there was no evidence that it meddled in the US elections, after Washington indicted 13 Russians for alleged covert efforts to sway voters.
“There are no indications that the Russian government could be involved in this,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
It was the Kremlin’s first comment since the indictments were filed on Friday by a US special prosecutor as part of a federal government probe.
The indictments allege that an associate of Putin led a Russia-based operation churning out social media content, using fake US identities, that included criticisms of Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race.
US President Donald Trump on Sunday glossed over any Russian responsibility and offered no indication of what his administration would do about it.
He wrote on Twitter that Russia had indeed succeeded in sowing discord in the US but denied that his campaign colluded with Russia, saying that this was what Moscow wanted people to believe.
“If it was the GOAL of Russia to create discord, disruption and chaos within the US then, with all of the Committee Hearings, Investigations and Party hatred, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams,” Trump tweeted.
“They are laughing their asses off in Moscow. Get smart America!” he added.
“The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia — it never did!” he said, alleging that “the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” referring to Clinton and her party.
Trump also accused the FBI of spending “too much time” on the probe.
Russia calls claims ‘blabber’
Peskov said that the claims centred on Russian citizens but that the Russian government was not, and could not, be involved.
The United States has failed to provide “significant evidence” of any meddling in its affairs, he insisted.
He added that Russia “does not have a custom of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and is not doing this now.”
Earlier Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had dismissed the claims in the indictment as “blabber.”
The allegations of Russian interference and collusion with the Trump campaign are being investigated by several congressional committees and by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
Mueller took charge of the federal government’s probe from the FBI last year following the sacking of its former chief James Comey.
‘Other shoes to drop’
The indictment makes no allegation of collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russia although it says some of the accused communicated with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”
“I do think there are other shoes to drop here besides this indictment,” former national security director James Clapper said on CNN.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there were “no allegations in this indictment” that any American was a “knowing participant” in the Russian scheme.
That led Trump to declare that this vindicated his campaign team.
Rosenstein also said there was no judgement on whether the Russian campaign “altered the outcome” of the White House race.
Speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster called the evidence of Russian interference in US democratic processes “incontrovertible.”
The US Treasury Department last month issued a list of prominent Russian political and business figures who could be sanctioned, as required under a law passed last year to punish Moscow’s election meddling.
But the administration said new sanctions called for under the law were not needed because the measure was already having a deterrent effect.
Multimillion dollar operation
The indictment alleges that the operation that started in 2014 involved hundreds of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. The Russians indicted are not in custody.
The campaign was allegedly directed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with links to Putin, and focused on hurting Clinton and helping Trump swing the vote.
Prigozhin’s catering company has worked for the Kremlin and he has been nicknamed “Putin’s chef.” Russian media have depicted him as a shadowy figure with possible links to Wagner, a mercenary group reportedly operating in Syria. He has denied the claim.
Prigozhin himself has been under US sanctions since 2016 over the conflict in Ukraine.
His catering company is also under sanctions.
He denied the claims in the indictment on Friday, saying that the US chose to scapegoat him as a “devil”.