SOCHI, Russia — Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Donald Trump for energizing American voters "tired of the elites" while continuing to deny that the Kremlin has sought to meddle in the United States election.
"Is America some sort of banana republic? America is a great power. Please correct me if I'm wrong," Putin said Thursday, speaking at the Valdai Club, an annual gathering of Russian and international world policy experts. "Does anyone really think that Russia can influence the choice of the American people in any way?"
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security explicitly accused the Russian government of hacking the email servers of the Democratic National Committee earlier this year. Hillary Clinton's campaign has accused Russia of hacking campaign chairman John Podesta's email account, although WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has denied that Russian hackers are supplying him material.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the Obama administration was certain of Russia's involved in the email attacks, but there wasn't as much clarity on the voting-system breaches.
Kerry, speaking at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, also expressed confidence in the American election system, saying it would be difficult for any country to impact vote counting, because "those are state-run operations and they are not on the open Internet."
After refusing to take sides in the 2016 election, Putin offered praise for Republican candidate Donald Trump's strategy.
"Trump has chosen his own way of reaching the hearts of the voters," Putin said. "He is acting extravagantly, but not so pointlessly."
"He represents the interests of the part of the society tired of the elites that have held power for decades," he added. "He is representing the common people, and he is acting like a common guy himself."
Trump has also spoken positively of Putin and indicated his willingness to work with him as president, even to the extent of ignoring Russia's transgressions of international law, such as the 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. Trump has repeatedly refused to give credence to the U.S. intelligence community's assessment of Russia's complicity in the hacks, despite being briefed on the issue.
Meanwhile, there is bad blood between Putin and Clinton, who accused him of rigging his 2012 elections and, more recently, war crimes in Syria's Aleppo. Putin has slammed Clinton for allegedly stirring insurrection in Russia in 2012.
In the end, "we will be working with any American president elected by the American people who would work with us," Putin said.