By JIM HEINTZ and FRANCESCA EBEL
SOCHI, Russia — Russia and the United States voiced hope Tuesday that badly strained relations could begin to improve despite wide differences on multiple fronts and deep mutual suspicion deepened by Russian meddling in American elections.
With tensions running high over Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed vindication from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and said he thought it was time to move on. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conveyed President Donald Trump’s interest in restoring better ties.
In the highest-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released last month, Putin told Pompeo he hoped relations with the U.S. would now improve.
Still, his claim of vindication covered only allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Putin did not address Mueller’s conclusion that Russia actively interfered in the election.
“As we said before there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there,” Putin said. “Still, that was one of the reasons for the certain break in our inter-state ties,” he said. “I’m hoping today that the situation is changing.”
Though Putin said the Mueller report did not find collusion, the report explicitly notes that collusion is not a legal term and that prosecutors instead searched for evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller’s team ultimately concluded that the evidence did not establish such a conspiracy.
Pompeo did not specifically mention election meddling in his brief reply to Putin, although earlier, Pompeo made clear that any repeat of the 2016 meddling would not be tolerated.
Putin told Pompeo his recent telephone conversation with Trump raised hopes for an improvement in relations.
“As you know, not long ago, a few days ago, I had the pleasure of talking with the president of the United States by telephone,” he said. “For me, it created the impression that the president intends to restore Russian-American connections and contacts to resolve joint issues that present mutual interests.”