He may not have said the term "fake news," or the Russian equivalent of it, but Vladimir Putin made it clear in his annual year-end press conference that he's labeling assertions of Russian meddling in the US election "nonsense," per ABC News. Putin railed against the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller and government panels into Russian interference, saying the investigation was "invented by people who are in opposition to [President] Trump to characterize his work as illegitimate," the Wall Street Journal reports. He also said Washington, DC, is now caught up in "spy mania" and that those pushing for answers are "not respecting the voters who voted for [Trump]."
As for the president himself, Putin praised him for how he's doing so far, noting his "significant achievements," per the Times of Israel, adding that stock market performance "speaks of investor confidence in the US economy, which means that they trust what President Trump is doing." He also says he and Trump are now on a first-name basis after they met on the sidelines of two international summits in 2017. Other Putin pontifications from the presser, per the AP and the Telegraph:
- On Russian meddling, Part II: Putin insisted the Russian ambassador at the center of much of the controversy, Sergey Kislyak, never did anything beyond the reach of his official duties. Putin also pooh-poohed reaction to the presence of RT TV and the Sputnik news agency on the US media landscape, saying they barely made a blip and shouldn't have to register as foreign agents.
- On nuclear weapons: Generally, Putin says he's concerned about the US possibly yanking itself out of key nuclear arms control pacts, including the INF Treaty. More specifically, Putin is worried the US recently "provoked" North Korea on its nuclear weapons program, and that if the US decides to use force against the North, the results could be "catastrophic." Instead, Putin would prefer "constructive" talks with the US on the matter.
- On competition against him in next year's election: He says he's all for that "may the best man or woman win" mentality, but he adds he only welcomes rivals who offer a positive campaign, saying Russia will fend off "radicals" looking to throw the country into chaos. "It's not my job to raise competitors," he said.
- On Russia being banned from 2018 Olympics in South Korea: Putin continues to deny the state-supported doping that led to the ban, even going so far as to say the Russian doping expert who provided testimony "is 'under the control' of the FBI and 'American special services.'" He also made the cryptic statement that US agencies may be giving that expert "substances so that he says what's required."