Saturday 14 December 2019

FBI's meddling charges 'just blather', says Russian foreign minister Lavrov

Herbert Raymond McMaster, National security advisor to the US President. Photo: Getty Images
Herbert Raymond McMaster, National security advisor to the US President. Photo: Getty Images

Lolita Baldor in Munich

Top Russian and American officials exchanged barbs yesterday in Germany over the US indictment of 13 Russians accused of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.

Donald Trump's national security adviser, HR McMaster, said at the Munich Security Conference that the federal indictments showed the US was becoming "more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion".

"As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain," McMaster told a Russian delegate to the conference.

Just minutes before, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had dismissed the indictments as "just blather", according to remarks through an interpreter.

"I have no response," Lavrov said when asked for comment on the allegations. "You can publish anything, and we see those indictments multiplying, the statements multiplying."

The two men addressed the conference of top world leaders, defence officials and diplomats, giving more general back-to-back opening remarks. But both were immediately hit with blunt questions about the US indictment and the broader issue of cyberattacks.

In Russia, news of the indictments was met with more scorn. "There are no official claims, there are no proofs for this. That's why they are just children's statements," said the presidential envoy for international information security, Andrei Kutskikh.

McMaster also scoffed at the suggestion that the US would work with Russia on cyber security issues.

"I'm surprised there are any Russian cyber experts available based on how active most of them have been undermining our democracies in the West," he said to laughter.

"So I would just say that we would love to have a cyber dialogue when Russia is sincere."

The federal indictment brought last Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller represents the most detailed allegations to date of illegal Russian meddling during the campaign that sent Trump to the White House.

Lavrov argued that US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, had said no country influenced the US election results.

"Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber - I'm sorry for this expression," Lavrov said.

The indictment charged 13 Russians with running a huge but hidden social media trolling campaign aimed in part at helping Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

It outlined the first criminal charges against Russians believed to have secretly worked to influence the US election's outcome.

According to the indictment, the Russian organisation was funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a wealthy St Petersburg businessman with ties to the Russian government and Vladimir Putin.

Lavrov denounced "this irrational myth about this global Russian threat, traces of which are found everywhere - from Brexit to the Catalan referendum".

In Russia, one of the 13 people indicted said the US justice system was unfair. Mikhail Burchik, who was identified in the indictment as executive director of an organisation that allegedly sowed propaganda on social media, was quoted yesterday as saying: "I am very surprised that, in the opinion of the Washington court, several Russian people interfered in the elections in the US. I do not know how America came to this decision."

He was quoted as saying that "they have one-sided justice, and it turns out that you can hang the blame on anyone".

© Associated Press

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