The Russian government was in contact with Donald Trump’s campaign team ahead of his shock election victory, a senior politician has said.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency “there were contacts” with influential people in the President-elect’s circle.
“I don't say that all of them, but a whole array of them, supported contacts with Russian representatives,” he added.
The comments on Thursday came after the first female US Secretary of State has warned Mr Trump not to alienate Europe by allying himself with Vladimir Putin.
The President-elect has repeatedly praised his Russian counterpart, causing Madeleine Albright, who served as Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, to once call him Mr Putin's "useful idiot”.
“The main thing is to remember that he is President of the United States and that our interests vis a vis what the Russians are doing are very important, and that our friends and allies in central and eastern Europe have been our friends and allies for a very, very long time,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme.
Ms Albright warned that some of the statements made in Mr Trump’s campaign were “dangerous” for the US and urged him to heed advice.
“It is my hope that when he is given his full intelligence briefings and sits in the Oval Office and listens to people with foreign policy background, then he will understand that statements such as the ones that he made are dangerous for the United States,” she added.
“The world is not a zero-sum world and we have to, and will need to, cooperate with others.”
Russian leaders have been celebrating the President-elect’s shock victory, with Mr Putin sending a telegram carrying his warm congratulations and parliament breaking into spontaneous applause upon hearing the result.
In a brief statement, the Kremlin said Mr Putin expressed “his hope to work together for removing Russian-American relations from their crisis state”.
The Russian President also said he had confidence in “building a constructive dialogue between Moscow and Washington that is based on principles of equality, mutual respect and a real accounting of each other's positions, in the interests of our peoples and the world community”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Putin added that he hoped to repair the “unfortunate degradation of relations” between Russia and the US but that the path ahead would be “difficult”.
Tensions have been steadily rising over Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the annexation of Crimea, its backing of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and antagonism towards Nato military assets including an incident where Russian jets “buzzed” an American navy ship.
Both countries have taken a combative stance, launching a series of high-profile military exercises and implementing sanctions and counter-sanctions.
But Mr Trump did not air concerns over the issues in his campaign, instead taking positions at odd with the Obama administration and repeatedly praising the Russian President, calling him a strong leader and refusing to join US officials in accusing Moscow of leaking hacked Democratic campaign emails to undermine Hillary Clinton.
“I think that I'll be able to get along with [Mr Putin],” he said in September.
And the flattery has not been one-sided. The Russian President called Mr Trump “a bright and talented person” in December, a remark the Republican called “a great honour”.
Mr Putin himself recently dismissed suggestions of Russian interference in the election, asking whether the US was a “banana republic”, while state media repeated claims that the vote was “rigged” in Hillary Clinton’s favour.
But as her loss looked ever more certain on Wednesday, all allegations of fraud were dropped as state television hailed Mr Trump’s unexpected triumph.
“I want to drive through Moscow with an American flag in the window. Come and join me,” Russia Today editor Margarita Simonyan tweeted, with a smile emoji. “Today, they earned it.”
Ms Clinton had been portrayed as a Russophobe, criminal and liar during her campaign, with articles accusing her of planning a militaristic and aggressive stance towards the country.
As Secretary of State, she was critical of Russia's flawed 2011 parliamentary elections, leading Mr Putin to accuse her of fomenting mass protests against his presidency that ensued.
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