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Putin lauds Trump's summit performance, hits out at US critics
[MOSCOW] Russian President Vladimir Putin stood up for Donald Trump over his performance at their summit and hit out at US critics of the meeting that he said helped ease tensions between their countries.
"Certain forces in America are trying to belittle and disavow the results of the meeting in Helsinki," which was a success and produced useful agreements, Mr Putin told a gathering of Russian ambassadors and Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow on Thursday. "We see there are forces that place their narrow group interests above those of the nation as a whole."
Mr Trump's facing a storm of criticism at home, from Democrats and leading Republicans, after he publicly sided with Mr Putin at the summit against the conclusions of US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign. He issued a belated clarification the next day, which he immediately undercut with qualifiers, then told CBS News on Wednesday that he holds Mr Putin personally responsible for Russian interference.
Mr Putin's comments appear to reflect a Russian shift toward more direct support of the US president, after the Kremlin leader declared for the first time at the meeting that he wanted Mr Trump to win the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton. "Putin formed a political alliance" with Mr Trump at the summit and is now "vocally supporting his US counterpart against his domestic foes," Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Tuesday on Twitter.
Mr Trump returned Mr Putin's embrace by entertaining a proposal to let Russian authorities question the former US ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, who served under the Obama administration. While he made no commitments when the idea was raised at their private meeting in Helsinki, Mr Trump "is going to meet with his team" to discuss it, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Wednesday.
Even contemplating the request makes Mr Trump "look weak," McFaul said in an MSNBC interview Thursday. "We look like we won't push back on outrageous, crazy ideas," he said.
Mr Putin sought access to McFaul and a number of other Americans in exchange for allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team to observe interrogations of 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted by a US grand jury last week on charges that involve the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts during the 2016 campaign. Mr Trump called Putin's proposal "an incredible offer."
Mr Putin said some forces, which he didn't identify, in the US were determined to sacrifice US-Russia relations to their partisan interests as well as the well-being of American businesses that were losing out on contracts worth millions in Russia.
He and Mr Trump agreed that Russia-US relations are "in many respects even worse than during the Cold War," Mr Putin said. "Nevertheless, I believe we've begun the path toward positive changes" after the summit.