Moscow on Saturday dismissed accusations it had interfered in the U.S. election that brought President Donald J. Trump to power, calling them “blabber” and “fantasies.”
The rebuttals, made at the Munich Security Conference, came a day after the United States indicted 13 Russians for running a secret campaign to sway the American vote.
“So as long as we don’t see facts, everything else is blabber,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the audience.
The indictments — which include the first charges laid by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference — detailed a stunning operation launched in 2014 in a bid to sow division and influence American politics “including the presidential election of 2016”.
Mueller alleges that by mid-2016, the campaign — under the direction of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — became focused on boosting Mr. Trump and demeaning his rivals including Democrat Hillary Clinton.
It allegedly involved hundreds of people working in shifts and with a budget of millions of dollars. Three companies were also indicted.
Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 16, 2018
Mr. Mueller charges that members of the group posed as U.S. citizens on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, posting content that reached “significant numbers” of Americans.
The indictments made no judgement however on whether the alleged Russian efforts had altered the outcome of the election.
When asked to comment on the charges at the security gathering in Germany, Mr. Lavrov said: “I don’t have a reaction because anything and everything can be published.We see how accusations, statements, are multiplying.”
But he stressed that U.S. officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, had in the past “denied that any country influenced results of the election.”
Taking to the stage at a later event in the southern German city, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak was equally dismissive.
“We didn’t meddle in the American political life,” said Mr. Kislyak, who was posted in Washington when Trump’s White House win stunned the world.
“Whatever allegations are being mounted against us are simply fantasies that are being used for political reasons inside the United States in the fight between different sides of the political divide,” he added.
Mr. Kislyak’s own name has popped up in Mr. Mueller’s probe as part of his inquiries into contacts between Russia and the Trump team.
In December, Mr. Mueller announced that former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with then-ambassador Kislyak in 2016.
Russia's foreign minister says the U.S. indictment of a group of Russians accused of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election is "just blabber": https://t.co/x9LUHZpMdr
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) February 17, 2018
Despite the vehement Russian denials, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R.McMaster, speaking in Munich immediately after Mr. Lavrov, said “evidence” of such attempts to “interfere in our democratic process” would become harder to hide.
“We’re becoming more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion, and as you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and in the public domain,” Mr. McMaster said.
While in the past, investigators were wary of divulging their IT intelligence capabilities, “now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it’s going to be very apparent to everyone,” he added.
Mr. McMaster also argued that Russian authorities might begin to reconsider attempts to sway foreign elections, “because it’s just not working.”
The efforts to “polarise our societies” and “pit Western societies against each other, all that has done has appealed to those big fringes while uniting all of our policies actually against Russia and Russian interference,” he said.
Mr. Trump meanwhile has seized on the indictments as proof that his campaign team did not conspire with Moscow.
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president,” he tweeted Friday. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”
None of the 13 Russian suspects are in U.S. custody.