MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for "keenly" feeling public sentiment to win the election and denied the White House's claims of Russia's meddling in the vote.
Speaking during a marathon end-of-year news conference that was televised live, Putin said he sees "nothing unusual" in Trump's pledge to strengthen the U.S. nuclear forces, calling the statement in line with the president-elect's campaign promises.
In his wide-ranging remarks, the Russian leader claimed that his country's military is stronger than any potential aggressor, but acknowledged that the U.S. military is bigger. He also cast the modernization of Russia's nuclear arsenals as a necessary response to the U.S. missile defense system.
"It's not us who have been speeding up the arms race," Putin said, claiming that the Russian military's nuclear missiles can penetrate any missile defense.
On the U.S. election, Putin described President Barack Obama's accusations of Russian hacking into Democratic leaders' emails as an attempt to shift the blame for Hillary Clinton's defeat.
Asked how he responded to Obama's accusations when he brought them up in their conversation, Putin said he wouldn't divulge details of a confidential discussion.
He shrugged off Washington's claims of the hackers' Russian affiliation, saying they could be based elsewhere.
"The most important thing is the substance of the information the hackers have uncovered," Putin said, adding that the Democrats should have apologized to Americans over the "manipulations" the emails revealed.
In response to Obama's comment that "Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave" upon seeing recent poll results showing that more than one-third of Republicans view Putin favorably, Putin said Reagan would be happy to see his party win.
"It shows that a significant part of the American people have a similar view about the situation in the world and what we need to do, what the common dangers and problems are," he said.
The two countries' relations have plummeted to their lowest level since the Cold War. Putin said he agrees with Trump's assessment of poor U.S.-Russian relations, adding that they "can't be worse."
Noting this week's attack in Berlin, Putin called for better cooperation in fighting terrorism, saying such efforts between Russia and the West have been effectively paralyzed by Western sanctions against Russia.
Putin expressed hope that he would meet soon with Trump to discuss how to improve the two countries' relations — and would "definitely" visit the United States if Trump invites him.
The Russian leader added with a smile that "no one but us expected him to win."