Lavrov denies Russian influence over US election

WARNING: This story contains graphic language.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens to Andros Kyprianou, Cyprus' General Secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens to Andros Kyprianou, Cyprus' General Secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Moscow (CNN)–Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed claims that his country is interfering in the US presidential election as “ridiculous”.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Moscow, Lavrov said it was “flattering” that American officials think Russia is meddling in the election, but the accusations were baseless.

The US last week accused Russia of being behind a series of email hacks, including communications from the Democratic National Committee.

“It’s flattering, of course, to get this kind of attention — for a regional power, as President Obama called us some time ago,” Lavrov said in the CNN interview.

“Now everybody in the United States is saying that it is Russia which is running the [US] presidential debate,” he said.

“We have not seen a single fact, a single proof.”

Last Friday’s announcement was the first time the US government has publicly blamed another country for hacking with the goal of influencing a US election. Officials told CNN that it followed long deliberations within the Obama administration as to whether and when to take the step.

With a wryness for which the Russian diplomat has become known, Lavrov said he was putting himself “in the shoes of the American politicians.” There should be, he said, a “presumption of innocence.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s email is not in Russia’s interest.

“There was a whole hysteria about that being of interest to Russia, but there is nothing within the interest of Russia,” Putin said, speaking at an investment forum in Moscow.

Putin added that Russia is ready to work with the next US president “regardless of the outcome.”

He said he didn’t see why Russia was a “main issue in the election campaign,” and that it was “gratifying but puzzling.”

Democrats have accused Russia of coordinating the release of the emails to benefit Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.

The White House followed up Tuesday by saying it would respond to the alleged Russian cyber attacks in a “proportional” way, without detailing what that retaliation might be.

Asked about this threatened response, Lavrov said: “It’s not worth, I believe, speculating. If they decided to do something, let them do it. But to say that Russia is interfering in the United States’ domestic matters, is ridiculous.”

Lavrov accused the United States of failing to respond to a proposal “to start professional consultations on cybercrime” that he said was put by the Russian Prosecutor General’s office to the US Department of Justice almost a year ago.

Lavrov confirmed Russia had filed a complaint with the United Nations over remarks by a top UN official in which Donald Trump and right-wing European politicians were criticized as “demagogues and political fantasists.”

The remarks by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, were “absolutely inappropriate,” Lavrov said, “because his position is not about passing a ruling or passing judgment on sovereign states.”

The foreign minister denied, however, that Trump or any other politician was mentioned by name in the Russian complaint.

Lavrov said he followed the election on TV “from time to time” and had worked well with Hillary Clinton as US Secretary of State, but that he is “not paid to be in the expectation business.”

“I feel sorry for what is happening now in Russian-American relations,” he said. “I can only reaffirm that it was not us who started this very unhealthy kind of relationship, and this started long before Ukraine, long before Syria.”

Lavrov was also asked about the furor over a video that emerged last week in which Trump talked about women in lewd terms.

After pointing out that English was not his first language and that he was unsure if he would sound “decent,” Lavrov said: “There are so many pussies around the presidential campaign on both sides that I prefer not to comment.”

CNN’s Mick Krever reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Jo Shelley and Seb Shukla contributed to this report.

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