Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday American politicians were whipping up hysteria about a mythical Russian threat in the U.S. presidential campaign as a ploy to distract voters from their own failings.
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Putin, addressing an audience of foreign policy experts gathered in southern Russia, said he found it hard to believe that anyone seriously thought Moscow was capable of influencing the Nov. 8 election.
The U.S. government has formally accused Russia of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has accused Republican rival Donald Trump of being a Putin "puppet".
"Hysteria has been whipped up in the United States about the influence of Russia over the U.S. presidential election," said Putin, calling it a ruse to cover up for the fact that the U.S. political elite had nothing to say about serious issues such as the country's national debt or gun control.
"It's much simpler to distract people with so-called Russian hackers, spies, and agents of influence. Does anyone really think that Russia could influence the American people's choice in any way? Is America a banana republic or what? America is a great power."
Putin also said certain forces in the West were trying to exaggerate the threat that Russia posed in order to secure higher military spending and talk up their own importance.
He said Russia was not planning to attack anyone.
"A nest of terrorists"
Turning to Syria, Putin said that Russia had no other option but to clear out what he called "a nest of terrorists" from Syria's Aleppo despite the fact that civilians were also present in the city.
Putin said civilian casualties in conflicts should be mourned everywhere, not just in Aleppo, pointing to what he said were civilians killed around Mosul in Iraq.
"Bells should toll for all innocent victims. Not just in Aleppo," said Putin.