Putin says Western spy cases aimed at ‘holding Russia back’
Russian President Vladimir Putin at his annual press conference on Thursday dismissed spy scandals in the West as aimed at undermining the country’s international standing.
Putin cited the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, which Britain has blamed on Russia, naming the two suspects in the attack as military intelligence agents.
“If there hadn’t been the Skripals, they would have thought up something else. There is only one aim: to hold back Russia’s development as a possible competitor,” he said.
Putin also criticised last week’s conviction of Russian Maria Butina in the United States for acting as an illegal foreign agent, in a case linked to allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Butina, a gun rights enthusiast, pleaded guilty to charges of attempting to influence US foreign policy and faces up to six months in prison followed by likely deportation.
“I don’t understand what she could confess to since she was not carrying out any government assignments… whatever she said was under threat of 10 to 15 years in jail,” Putin said.
“I don’t understand what they jailed her for. There are no grounds.”
Putin also said sanctions on Russia imposed by Western countries were the result of the country’s increasing international influence.
“This is connected with the growth of Russia’s power,” he said. “A powerful player appears who needs to be reckoned with. Until recently it was thought there was no longer such a country.”
He said Russia’s economy had “adapted” and that in some ways sanctions had been positive, pointing as an example to the expansion of Russian agriculture.