Russian officials Friday continued to deny that Moscow tried to influence the 2016 U.S. election, brushing aside hundreds of pages of evidence released in special counsel Robert Muller’s report by saying it contained no proof.
“We still do not accept accusations of that sort,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters in a conference call. He said Russia has insisted from the very beginning of the two-year probe that “whatever investigators did, they would find no [Russian] meddling, because there was no meddling.”
In the United States, there is consensus among the nation’s intelligence community, and details published in the Mueller report, on how Moscow used a variety of tactics and people to try to influence Americans’ political opinions, hurt political enemies and help Donald Trump’s campaign. U.S. prosecutors announced indictments against 25 Russian nationals, mostly military officers and “internet trolls,” as well as three Russian entities for their roles in the meddling.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that [Mueller’s conclusions] “actually confirm the absence of any argument that Russia supposedly meddled in the American elections.”
Last month, Russian officials reacted in a similar fashion after U.S. Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller’s investigation. In their euphoric reactions, however, they commented only on the news that the U.S. probe had found no evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, ignoring the fact that Mueller’s team had also backed the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia in fact meddled in the 2016 election campaign.
Observers believe there is little hope that Russia will change its position on the conclusions of Mueller’s investigation.
“I don’t think there will be new statements made on the matter [by Russian officials], unless new facts are presented against Russia,” said Leonid Gusev of the Moscow-based Institute of International Research.
Pavel Sharikov, a senior fellow at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, agreed with his countryman, saying that “Russia’s position on the matter has been consistent” throughout the course of Mueller’s investigation and that at this point nothing will change it.
Experts are also doubtful about the ability of Washington and Moscow to build a constructive relationship in the near future. For that to happen, they say, a new administration will have to come to the White House.
Even though the special counsel and his team could not find evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign, some analysts say the cloud of collusion will linger over Trump’s presidency.
“There is no action that Russia can take that would change this [negative] narrative both in U.S. domestic politics and U.S. policies towards Russia,” Sharikov said.