Putin Says U.S. Is Not Russia's Enemy, Stays Mum on Grandkids

Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow
Vladimir Putin listens during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow on Thursday.Mikhail Klimentyev / AP

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By F. Brinley Bruton

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the U.S. was not an enemy of his country, saying his country had "many friends" in America.

"We have been through two wars together,” he said during his annual nationwide televised call-in show. “The Russian Empire was key in securing U.S. independence."

Putin added: "I know the mood of our people, we don't believe America is our enemy ... There is hysteria in the media and it affects the mood, but many people in Russia admire the achievements if the American people, and I hope relations will normalize."

Vladimir Putin listens during his annual televised call-in show in Moscow on Thursday.Mikhail Klimentyev / AP

The famously private leader also addressed his personal life, saying that his two daughters and two grandchildren reside in Russia.

"Despite all rumors, my daughters live here, in Moscow," he said.

"My grandchildren are in preschool," he adding, stating that he wanted to keep their identities and ages a secret. "I want them to be normal people, and for that they need to mix with ordinary people. But if I mention their names, they will not be left in peace. This will damage them. Please understand me."

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In 2013, Putin announced that he was divorcing his wife with whom he has two daughters in their 30s. His children have not been seen in public for years.

Putin also blamed domestic U.S. problems for sanctions imposed on Russia.

"We have always lived under sanctions, whenever Russia grew stronger there would always be sanctions, throughout history," he said. "There is a U.S. bill to toughen sanctions — why? Nothing has changed why are they talking about sanctions — it's evidence of domestic political problems in the U.S."

On Monday, the U.S. Senate reached a bipartisan agreement on a new round of sanctions against Russia, a move that will force President Donald Trump to either sign or veto the measure.

The sanctions are in response to a trio of Russian actions, including their interference in the 2016 election, engagement in Syria and the invasion of Crimea.

Putin added that while sanctions were painful and "hit everyone," there had also been positive outcomes with Russia getting the chance to shed its dependence on oil and gas exports.

"There are pluses. We had to switch our brains on," said Putin, adding that Russia's electronics, aerospace and agriculture industries have all received a boost.

His appearance came as questions swirled about his government's interference in the 2016 White House election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Putin ordered the disruption of the vote.

Putin also weighed in on former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump on May 9.

“[Comey] thinks there was Russia’s interference in the electoral process but does not provide any proof again,” Putin said.

However, he added that if Comey faced “political persecution,” he could be offered asylum in Russia.

Putin has held the heavily choreographed call-in show most years since 2001.

F. Brinley Bruton reported from London. Mansur Mirovalev reported from Moscow.

Mansur Mirovalev and The Associated Press contributed.