Trump has his "finger on the pulse of the mood of society," Putin said Friday at his annual press conference in Moscow. "He went all the way, even though no one believed that he would win, apart from you and me," he said, to applause in the packed hall.
Democrats who have accused Russia of helping to rob Clinton of victory through a hacking campaign aimed at bolstering Trump "are looking for someone outside to blame," Putin said. The Democratic Party was also defeated in elections to the Senate and Congress, the Russian leader said, quipping, "Is that also our work, my work?"
Russia is looking to the prospect of improved ties with the incoming Trump administration to help end a period of international isolation that led to U.S. and European sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The punitive measures, together with the collapse in oil prices, helped pushed Russia's economy into its longest recession in two decades.
Putin said the main topic when he and Trump meet will be improving Russia-U.S. ties. The president-elect must be given time to form his team before it makes sense to set up a meeting, he said.
Trump has questioned U.S. intelligence agency findings that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton's campaign, as the allegations of Russian electronic intrusion continue to generate alarm among both Democrats and Republicans. The Obama administration has ordered a further review of the hacking.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that a CIA official had told Congress that Russia's goal was to help Trump win the election, not just to create confusion, a finding that not all intelligence agencies are prepared to make. NBC News reported that intelligence officials it didn't identify have concluded Putin was personally involved in decisions on the hacking and the release of purloined material.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the NBC report as "amusing rubbish that has no basis in fact."
Putin said he agreed with Trump's comment during a September presidential debate that it's impossible to know who was behind the hacking attacks. Trump said then that Russia, China, or other people including "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds" could be responsible.
"Maybe it was someone who was just lying on the couch, or did it in bed, as now it's very easy to show a completely different place as the country of origin of an attack," Putin said. The substance of the information leaked to the public is more important than who carried out the hacking, he said.
The Russian leader downplayed the risk of a new arms race after Trump said on Twitter that the U.S. should increase its nuclear arsenal. The promised build-up was "no novelty" as it was in line with the Republican's campaign promises, Putin said.
MSBNC reported Friday that Trump said "let it be an arms race," when it asked him to clarify his tweet. "The president isn't saying we're going to do this," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, referring to the same tweet on NBC.
Russia, which is also modernizing its nuclear forces, won't spend more than it can afford on the re-armament program, Putin said. Defense spending will fall from 4.7 percent of gross domestic product this year to 2.8 percent in 2018 and remain at that level for the next few years, Putin said.
On Thursday, Putin told a Defense Ministry meeting in Moscow that Russia should also enhance the combat capability of its "nuclear triad" of land, sea and air forces, primarily by strengthening missile complexes that will be "guaranteed to penetrate existing and future missile defense systems."
Authors: Henry Meyer – Ilya Arkhipov – Stepan Kravchenko