WASHINGTON (AP) — Vladimir Putin rushed Wednesday to defend U.S. President Donald Trump from criticism over sharing classified information with Moscow, issuing a strongly worded statement that reflected the degree of the Russian leader’s frustration with the Washington infighting that has thwarted Kremlin hopes for a detente.
Trump’s decision to divulge classified intelligence with Russian diplomats marked a step toward Putin’s long-held goal of forging an alliance with the U.S. in the fight against terrorism.
Putin has pushed for anti-terror cooperation for years, arguing that the fight against the Islamic State group and other extremist organizations would only succeed if Moscow and Washington combined their efforts.
In his view, such a partnership could provide further benefits by defusing tensions between Russia and the West and eventually leading to the lifting of sanctions the U.S. and the European Union imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s expectation that Trump and Putin would meet soon after Trump took office have withered amid congressional and FBI investigations of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Putin still hopes to meet his American counterpart on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting in Germany in early July.
However, the Russian leader revealed his growing impatience Wednesday with a stinging attack on Trump’s critics. While the Kremlin initially refrained from comment about the intelligence controversy, Putin finally dropped decorum and lashed out at Trump’s detractors in decidedly undiplomatic language.
“I’m surprised to see them upsetting the domestic political situation in the United States under anti-Russian slogans,” he said. “These people either don’t understand that they are hurting their own country, and in that case they are just dumb. Or they do understand everything, and that means that they are dangerous and unscrupulous.”
Trump has been put on the defensive for sharing classified information with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador during a White House meeting last week. The president’s critics say the disclosure could compromise the source of the intelligence provided by a U.S. ally and make other nations wary about sharing sensitive information with the United States.
Trump tweeted Tuesday that as president he had an “absolute right” to share with Russia “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” adding that he did it for “humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
For the Kremlin, Trump’s conversation with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was a welcome indication of his willingness to pool efforts with Russia in the fight against the Islamic State.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration shunned such cooperation, citing the Kremlin’s efforts to shore up Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Trump’s gesture was particularly important for Moscow given the spike in tensions following the U.S. missile strike in April on a Syrian air force base that Washington said was a staging point for a chemical attack. Moscow has insisted that the Syrian government was not involved in the chemical attack, a claim dismissed by Washington and its allies.
Putin said he was pleased by the results of Lavrov’s meeting with Trump, but demonstrated his irritation with what he described as anti-Russian “political schizophrenia spreading in the U.S.”
“We initially watched the evolving political struggle with amusement, but today it makes us feel sad and causes concern,” he said.
He added that “it’s up to the American people to judge President Trump’s actions, and obviously it can only be done when he’s allowed to work at full capacity.”
On a sarcastic note, Putin said he issued Lavrov a reprimand for failing to share the classified information he had received from Trump with him and the Russian intelligence agencies.
“It’s very bad of him,” Putin said following talks with visiting Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as Lavrov and other Russian officials present exchanged smiles and laughed.
Putin went on to say that Russia was ready to provide the notes taken at Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak to Congress, if the White House approves.
Top Russian lawmakers also have vented frustration and anger over the latest commotion over Trump’s relationship with Russia.
Konstantin Kosachev, who leads the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, denounced what he described as a “perverted” attitude to Trump sharing classified data.
“Imagine for a second that we in Russia criticize our president for warning you Americans of a looming threat,” Kosachev wrote on Facebook. “Don’t you feel sick of or scared with such `American values?”‘
Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the Council for Foreign and Defense Policies, an association of top political and security experts in Russia, said Putin’s comments suggest the Kremlin was increasingly losing hope for normalized ties with Washington.
“No one expected that political infighting could reach such a pitch,” Lukyanov said. “If Trump’s meeting with Lavrov has caused such fallout, one can only wonder what his meeting with Putin would entail.”
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