Russian government dismisses claims intelligence officials in contact with Donald Trump election campaign

Vladimir Putin's spokesman says reports 'not based on any facts'

Lizzie Dearden
Wednesday 15 February 2017 10:27
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Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are set to meet later this year after pledging to improve ties
Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are set to meet later this year after pledging to improve ties

The Russian government has dismissed allegations that the country’s intelligence officials were in repeated contact with Donald Trump’s team ahead of the US election.

“Let's not believe anonymous information,” Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“It's a newspaper report which is not based on any facts.”

Vladimir Jabbarov, a Russian senator, told state media the latest claims were part of an intelligence community conspiracy to have the President impeached.

“This is a common tactic to try to discredit a particular person,” he added.

Russian officials struck a combative stance with the US on issues including the Ukrainian conflict, after the White House said Mr Trump “expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in Ukraine and return Crimea”.

The peninsula was annexed by Russia in 2014, prompting the US and EU to impose continuing sanctions on Russia and plunging relations with the Kremlin to their worst level since the end of the Cold War.

Mike Pence claims there was no contact between Russia and Trump campaign

Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, told a press briefing the occupied territory would not be relinquished.

“We don't give back our own territory,” she told a news briefing. “Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation.”

The Ukrainian conflict was one of the key areas of discord between Russia and the Obama administration, including Mr Putin’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and increasing tensions with Nato.

But the new President has made more friendly overtures to his Russian counterpart, dismissing allegations of Russian interference in the US election and calling Mr Putin “very smart” and a “great” leader.

The pair have vowed to repair ties between the US and Russia and have spoken on the phone ahead of a meeting expected later this year.

Pro-Russian separatists seizing a police building at the weekend in Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine. Troops in uniform without insignia have appeared as in Crimea

There has been no comment from the White House or American security services on allegations published by the New York Times of “repeated contacts” between Mr Trump’s campaign staff and associates and senior Russian intelligence operatives in the year leading up to the election.

The President’s representatives have previously denied any untoward contact with the Kremlin but fresh claims have emerged in the wake of a separate scandal that caused the national security advisor’s resignation.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted communications at the same time evidence of Russian involvement in the Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack was discovered, although officials said they found no evidence of the Trump team “colluding” with Russia on efforts to influence the result.

Officials did not say to what extent the contacts may have been about business, the New York Times reported, and did not disclose details of what was discussed or how many people were involved.

Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, repeated denials of improper contact between Trump aides and Russia at a press briefing before report emerged on Tuesday.

He described phone calls with the Russian ambassador that caused the resignation of Michael Flynn as an “isolated incident”, where he gave “incomplete information” to the Vice President over whether sanctions were discussed.

Asked whether the Trump administration was undertaking efforts to examine contacts with Russia, Mr Spicer said there was “no new information”.

When challenged specifically on discussions held during the campaign, Mr Spicer said: “There’s nothing that would conclude me…that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.”

Mike Pence, the Vice President, also denied contact had taken place with Russia before the election in a Fox News interview on Sunday.

“Of course not. Why would there be any contact between the campaign?” he said. “This is all a distraction, and it's all part of a narrative to delegitimise the election.”

In November, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said there had been communication between the Russian government and members of Mr Trump’s political team.

“There were contacts,” he told Interfax. “We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign.”

But Hope Hicks, the spokesperson for the President’s campaign, issued a denial saying members “had no contact with Russian officials”.

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