Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the United States is trying to drive a wedge between the Kremlin and his wealthiest allies, according to his team.
"We are confident that this is exactly the case,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Thursday, per state-run media.
Peskov suggested that economic sanctions imposed on Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine are now being tightened to alienate domestic business allies of the president in advance of the next Russian election. But though he is “convinced” that such a scheme is in place, he downplayed the idea that the tactic might be working, saying that the Kremlin hasn’t heard of frustrated businessmen.
“We have no information about such beliefs and views, and we are obviously ready to discuss them if they exist with representatives of local business,” Peskov said.
It’s the latest example of Russian allegations that the U.S. is trying to interfere in the 2018 Russian presidential election, after a year of U.S. officials blaming Putin’s team for a series of cyberattacks against the Democratic Party in 2016. In October, Putin suggested that a scandal involving Russian athletes banned from Olympic competition, for using performance-enhancing drugs before the 2014 Olympics, was part of a U.S. plan to undermine his team.
"This is what raises my concern: The Olympic Games are due to begin in February while we will be holding presidential elections in March,” Putin said in early November. “There are vast suspicions that all this is being done to stoke an atmosphere necessary for someone where sports fans and athletes are disgruntled over the fact that the state is allegedly involved in breaches and it is responsible for that.”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, maintains that Russia shouldn’t be surprised by Western sanctions.
"I find it fascinating because the Russians, God bless them, they're saying, 'Why are Americans anti-Russian?'" she said in October. "And why have we done the sanctions? Well, don't interfere in our elections and we won't be anti-Russian."