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US hurts itself with invented Trump collusion case, Putin says

Allegations of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia have been "invented" by his political foes to undermine his legitimacy, Russian President Vladmir Putin has said.

Speaking at his annual marathon news conference, President Putin reaffirmed his firm denial of meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

"All of it was invented by people who oppose President Trump to undermine his legitimacy," he said.

"I'm puzzled by that. People who do it are inflicting damage to the domestic political situation, incapacitating the president and showing a lack of respect for voters who cast their ballots for him."

He argued that Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, whose contacts with Mr Trump's entourage are part of the FBI and Congressional probes into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, was simply performing his routine duties like any other ambassador.

President Putin also insisted Russia's state-funded RT TV and Sputnik news agency had a very minor presence in the US media market, adding that the US demand for them to register as foreign agents represented an attack on media freedom.

Russia has responded in return, requesting the US government-funded Voice of America and the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to register as foreign agents.

President Putin noted Mr Trump's achievements, saying that global markets have demonstrated investors' confidence in the US persident's economic course.

He also voiced hope for a recovery in US-Russian ties, emphasising that the two countries need to cooperate on tackling global challenges.

He said Russia, in particular, is ready for "constructive" cooperation on tackling the North Korean stand-off.

President Putin has warned the US not to use force against North Korea, adding that the consequences will be "catastrophic".

He emphasised that Russia opposes Pyongyang's nuclear bid, but added the US had "provoked" Pyongyang into developing its nuclear and missile programmes by spiking a 2005 deal under which North Korea agreed to halt them.

President Putin said Moscow was encouraged to hear US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statement about readiness for talks with Pyongyang, hailing it as a "realistic" approach.

The Russian leader also voiced concern about the US considering a pullout from key nuclear arms control pacts, adding that Moscow intends to stick to them.

He noted that Russia is particularly worried about what he described as US violations of the INF Treaty, a Cold-War era pact banning intermediate range missiles.

The US has accused Russia of pact violations - charges that Russia has denied. Mr Putin said the US accusations are part of a "propaganda" campaign to pave the way for the US withdrawal.

He emphasised that Russia will "ensure its security without entering an arms race."

AP

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