MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected allegations of Russian interference in British politics and praised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for better understanding the mood of British society on Brexit than his political rivals.
Relations between London and Moscow remain strained over everything from the 2018 poisoning in England of a former Russian spy and his daughter to Syria and Ukraine.
Putin, fielding questions from reporters at his annual news conference, was asked about an unpublished British parliamentary report into allegations Russia had attempted to interfere in British politics, something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
“As regards (Russian) interference or non-interference, we’ve heard many times from official governing bodies in various countries, including Britain, assessments of what is happening inside Russia. Is that interference?” said Putin.
“We reserve the right to behave in the same way towards you. If you think that is interference, then keep thinking that. But it has nothing at all to do with interference.”
Reminded by a BBC reporter that Johnson had once compared him to Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter films, Putin said he didn’t care.
“I know what my country’s interests are. And whatever anyone has said about me has no importance when compared to the fundamental tasks that Russia is interested in solving,” he said.
Citing unnamed British business people and investors whom he said Russia regarded as friends, Putin said he believed London was interested in forging stronger economic ties with Moscow.
“We value this and are doing everything to support them so that they feel like they are at home here,” he said.
And despite being reminded of Johnson’s elf joke about him, Putin had warm words for the British politician.
“As regards what’s happening now, it’s possible to congratulate Johnson. He turned out to be the victor after all (in this month’s British election) and better grasped the mood in British society than his opponents,” said Putin.
“And as I understand it, he intends to go through with all of his Brexit plans.”
Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Catherine Evans