Russia on Thursday confirmed that it had been in touch with President-elect Donald Trump’s team during the election campaign, the privately-owned Interfax Russian news agency reported.
The terse announcement quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying, “Russia had contacts with [the] Trump team, this work is continuing.” There were no details about the nature of the contacts.
He added that the contacts spanned multiple members of Trump’s campaign. “I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them, supported contacts with Russian representatives,” he said.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Bloomberg that Russian embassy staff met with members of Trump’s campaign, and that it was “normal practice.” She said the campaign of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton refused requests for meetings.
The admission appeared to contradict statements by Carter Page, an adviser to Trump on Russian issues. Last month, Page described as “just complete garbage” a report by Yahoo News that he may have met with senior Russian officials to discuss the possible lifting of sanctions against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and its role in the continuing war in eastern Ukraine.
Putin on Wednesday congratulated Trump on his victory and “expressed hope for mutual work on bringing US-Russia relations out of their critical condition,” according to a statement issued by the Kremlin.
The statement added that “building constructive dialogue” would be in the interest of both countries and of the world community.
Russia’s lower house of parliament applauded Trump’s victory. Vyacheslav Novikov, a member of the foreign affairs committee from the governing United Russia party, addressed the State Duma on Wednesday morning, saying, “I congratulate all of you” on Trump’s victory.
The chamber, where the pro-Kremlin party holds an overwhelming majority, broke into applause, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters in Russia were reportedly circulating triptych portraits of Trump, Putin and the French far-right leader Marine LePen, who was among the first politicians worldwide to congratulate Trump on his victory.
Trump supporters in Russia unveil triptych portraits of Putin, Trump and Le Pen. In case you were in any doubt as to the trend here. pic.twitter.com/s5BPhejLHz
— Alex Andreou (@sturdyAlex) November 9, 2016
During the presidential race, Washington formally accused the Russian government of trying to “interfere” in the elections by hacking US political institutions. Putin has also been accused of favoring Trump — who has praised Putin repeatedly and called for better relations with Moscow.
In July, Trump appeared to make a plea to Moscow to locate the 30,000 messages deleted from the private server of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Clinton claimed in October that Putin was rooting for Trump in the race for the White House because the Republican would be his “puppet.”
Russia’s relations with the United States have slumped to a post-Cold War nadir over the conflict in Ukraine and stalled efforts to end the Syrian war. Some see Trump’s election as an opportunity to mend fences.