Putin on U.S. election interference: 'I couldn't care less'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told NBC News that he "couldn't care less" if Russian citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election because, he claims, they were not connected to the Kremlin.

In an exclusive and at-times combative interview with NBC's Megyn Kelly, Putin again denied the charge by U.S. intelligence services that he ordered meddling in the November 2016 vote that put Donald Trump in the White House.

"Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?" asked Putin, who will probably be returned as president in the March 18 elections.

Putin was unmoved by an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller last month that accused 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies of interfering in the election — including supporting Trump's campaign and "disparaging" Hillary Clinton's.

Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

"So what if they're Russians?" Putin said of the people named in last month's indictment. "There are 146 million Russians. So what? ... I don't care. I couldn't care less. ... They do not represent the interests of the Russian state."

Asked whether he was concerned about Russian citizens attacking U.S. democracy, Putinreplied that he had yet to see any evidence that the alleged interference had broken Russian law.

"We in Russia cannot prosecute anyone as long as they have not violated Russian law," he said. "At least send us a piece of paper. ... Give us a document. Give us an official request. And we'll take a look at it."

U.S. intelligence agencies and many Western analysts have said that Russian interference came at the orders of the Kremlin. Putin, Russia's longest-serving leader since Stalin, dismissed this.

16 PHOTOS
Trump and Putin meet at APEC
See Gallery
Trump and Putin meet at APEC
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (L) and US president Donald Trump during a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (L front) and US president Donald Trump before a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Donald Trump talk as they attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SPUTNIK / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV (Photo credit should read MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as the make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin walk together to take part in the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk as they make their way to take the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
DA NANG, VIETNAM - NOVEMBER 11, 2017: Russia's president Vladimir Putin (CL front) and US president Donald Trump (CR front) before a photo session of world leaders on the closing day of the 25th APEC Summit. Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk before a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quangand and Chinese President Xi Jinping arrive for the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk during a break in a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam November 11, 2017. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
(Front L to R) Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, (back L to R) Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha pose during the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
(Front L to R) China's President Xi Jinping, Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, (back L to R) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump, and Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha pose during the 'family photo' during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / JORGE SILVA (Photo credit should read JORGE SILVA/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"Could anyone really believe that Russia, thousands of miles away ... influenced the outcome of the election? Doesn't that sound ridiculous even to you?" he said. "It's not our goal to interfere. We do not see what goal we would accomplish by interfering. There's no goal."

Experts like John Brennan, a former CIA director and now an NBC News analyst, say Moscow's goal was clear.

"To weaken the United States government," Brennan said in a separate interview, summarizing his opinion of the Kremlin's aims. This, he added, was so "the U.S. government is not going to be able to deal with international issues and confronting Russian aggression as assertively as it needs to."

Trump has called Putin "a strong leader" who has "done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he's representing."

Trump has also hinted that he gives Putin the benefit of the doubt when he denies that Moscow interfered.

"[Putin] said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Hanoi following a meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Danang in November.

In the interview with Kelly, Putin called the U.S. president "a businessman with vast experience" and "a quick study" despite being new to politics.

"He understands that if it is necessary to establish a cooperative relationship with someone, then you have to treat your current or potential partner with respect," Putin said. "Engaging in mutual accusations and insults, this is a road to nowhere."

Putin said he doesn't read Trump's tweets and doesn't tweet himself.

Asked why not, he said: "I have other ways of expressing my point of view or implementing a decision. Donald is a more modern individual."

Putin is facing little opposition in the presidential election whose first round is on March 18.

"Well, we will see. It's up to the Russian voters," he said.

In terms of the future of Russia-U.S. relations, he cast Russia as the victim.

"We are not the ones who labeled you our enemies. You made a decision, at the level of parliament, at the level of Congress and put Russia on your list of enemies," he said. "Why did you do that? Are we the ones who imposed sanctions on the United States? The U.S. imposed sanctions on us."

Putin claimed he would be willing to repair relations with Washington.

"Listen, let's sit down calmly, talk and figure things out," he said. "I believe that the current president wants to do that, but there are forces that won't let him do it."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.