Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team on Monday rejected the idea that former Trump advisor Michael Flynn influenced Russia's decision in December to delay retaliating against U.S. sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.
"That’s totally absurd," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, according to state-run media.
Flynn’s reported conversations with then-Ambassador Sergey Kislyak sparked a political controversy that consumed his career in President Trump’s administration and ultimately led to his indictment. The retired three-star general was fired for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about whether he had discussed sanctions policy with Kislyak, and he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations in court documents published last week.
Peskov maintained that Putin was unmoved by Flynn's effort to convince Russia not to retaliate against the U.S. sanctions, which were imposed just before Trump was set to take office.
"Whatever information Putin receives from his ambassadors does not concern anyone else,” he said. “The president makes decisions entirely on his own. He is guided exclusively by Russia’s national interests, as he has said himself more than once.”
The issue arose after then-President Barack Obama seized two Russian facilities in the United States and expelled 35 other suspected Russian spies who were attached to diplomatic posts. Those sanctions were issued in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election and designed to be difficult for Trump to reverse, given that he had been disputing Russia’s involvement in cyberattacks against the Democratic party.
Putin’s team was explicit about delaying retaliation against the Obama maneuvers in order to give Trump time to adjust policy. "Considering the current transition period in Washington, we still expect that we'll be able to get rid of such clumsy actions," Peskov said at the time.
Trump did not reverse those sanctions, which Congress soon moved to codify and expand in legislation. The president’s team opposed that sanctions package, but Trump declined to veto the law. Russia responded to the bill’s passage by forcing the withdrawal of hundreds of U.S. officials from Russia, prompting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to retaliate by closing three more Russian facilities in the United States.
"The United States hopes that, having moved toward the Russian Federation's desire for parity, we can avoid further retaliatory actions by both sides and move forward to achieve the stated down of both of our presidents: improved relations between our two countries and increased cooperation on areas of mutual concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at the time.