MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin has dismissed allegations of Russian meddling in last year's U.S. presidential election as "fiction" invented by Democrats to divert the blame for their defeat.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro released Tuesday, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russia's involvement in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails that yielded disclosures that proved embarrassing for Hillary Clinton's campaign.
The claims of Russian interference were driven by the "desire of those who lost the U.S. elections to improve their standing," Putin said in the interview recorded during his Monday visit to France.
"They want to explain to themselves and prove to others that they had nothing to do with it, their policy was right, they have done everything well, but someone from the outside cheated them," he continued. "It's not so. They simply lost, and they must acknowledge it."
The "people who lost the vote hate to acknowledge that they indeed lost because the person who won was closer to the people and had a better understanding of what people wanted," the Russian leader said in a reference to President Donald Trump.
Russia's hopes for a new detente under Trump have been shattered by congressional and FBI investigations of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. In the Le Figaro interview, Putin said the accusations of meddling leveled at Russia have destabilized international affairs.
He argued that trying to influence the U.S. vote would make no sense for Moscow as a U.S. president can't unilaterally shape policies.
"Russia has never engaged in that, we don't need it and it makes no sense to do it," he said. "Presidents come and go, but policies don't change. You know why? Because the power of bureaucracy is very strong."
The Russian leader added that he agrees with Trump that anyone could have been behind the hacking of the Democrats' emails.
"Maybe someone lying in his bed invented something or maybe someone deliberately inserted a USB with a Russian citizen's signature or anything else," Putin said. "Anything can be done in this virtual world."
The assessment echoed a remark by Trump during a September presidential debate in which he said of the DNC hacks: "It could be Russia, but it could be China, could also be lots of other people. It could be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds."
Asked about French President Emmanuel Macron's warning that any use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "red line" that would be met by reprisals, Putin said he agreed with that position.
But he also reiterated Russia's view that Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces weren't responsible for a fatal chemical attack in Syria in April.
The U.S. last month struck a Syrian air base with cruise missiles after accusing Assad's military of killing scores of civilians with a nerve agent launched from the base.
Putin said Russia had offered the U.S. and its allies the chance to inspect the Syrian base for traces of the chemical agent. He added that their refusal reflected a desire to justify military action against Assad.
"There is no proof of Assad using chemical weapons," Putin insisted in the interview. "In our deep belief, it was a provocation. Assad didn't use the weapons."