Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, leaves the federal court in Washington on December 1. (Susan Walsh / AP)
MOSCOW – The Kremlin issued several successive and forceful denials about whether the national security adviser of then-President-elect Donald Trump convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin not to retaliate against the sanctions issued by the then president Obama.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told reporters during a daily conference call that the answer was no, and for several reasons.
The Kremlin does not know anything about talks with Michael Flynn because they were conducted by the Foreign Ministry, he told reporters during a conference call on Monday. Go and ask them.
Anyway, Flynn was not in a position to make proposals to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambbadador, the spokesman continued, and they certainly would not have pbaded on to the president.
And, finally, Putin "makes decisions for himself," he added, guided only by the national interests of Russia.
In conclusion? "It's completely absurd," said Peskov, the spokesman.
There was little doubt that the Kremlin would deny having information about the accusations against Flynn, even when the special investigation into Russian meddling in the elections led by Robert Mueller III approaches an inner circle of advisers surrounding Trump.
In Russia, accusations of meddling with the government are treated with contempt as spurious and politically motivated, a way for Trump's enemies to increase political anger against the beleaguered president.
Still, Flynn's phone calls fit into a timeline that saw Putin react with leniency after the Obama administration ousted 35 diplomats and ignored the recommendations of his own Ministry of Foreign Affairs to immediately expel 35 US diplomats in retaliation.
At the end of December 2016, Flynn called Kislyak to convince him that Russia should not retaliate against the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by the Obama administration. The move was made in response to accusations backed by US intelligence agencies that Russian-backed hackers stole information from the Democratic National Committee's email servers and sought to change the election for Trump.
Later that day, Putin issued a surprise directive: Russia will not respond immediately to the expulsion of diplomats. Finally, once efforts to repair relations between the United States and Russia stalled under Trump, Putin cut off the staff of American diplomats and other government interests in Russia.
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