Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused U.S. President Barack Obama's administration of trying to undermine President-elect Donald Trump's legitimacy by spreading what Putin said were false allegations.
A dossier shown earlier this month to Obama and Trump -- part of which was leaked and published -- contained salacious and compromising but uncorroborated information compiled by a former British intelligence officer on links between Russia and Trump, who rejected the claims as "fake news."
And on January 6, U.S. intelligence agencies said they had concluded that Putin ordered a hacking campaign that aimed to undermine U.S. democracy, help Trump, and discredit his opponent in the November 8 election, Hillary Clinton.
Speaking at a news conference on January 17, Putin dismissed the dossier alleging Trump's sexual activities at a Moscow hotel in 2013 as "fake" and charged that those who ordered it are "worse than prostitutes."
In his first public comments on the claims, Putin suggested that Russian intelligence agencies would have had no reason to spy on Trump during his 2013 visit to Moscow, when the episode allegedly took place in a Ritz-Carlton hotel suite in Moscow.
"Does anyone think that our special services chase every American billionaire? Of course not. It's just completely ridiculous," Putin said.
In raunchy comments mocking the allegations, Putin also questioned why Trump -- who was in Moscow for the final of the Miss Universe beauty contest -- would hire prostitutes.
"He's a grown-up, for a start, and secondly a man who spent his whole life organizing beauty contests and meeting the most beautiful women in the world," Putin said.
"I can hardly imagine that he ran off to a hotel to meet our girls of 'lowered social responsibility'," he said, adding "although they are, of course, the best in the world."
"I doubt Trump fell for that," he said.
Putin described the dossier as part of efforts by Obama's administration to "undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect" despite an election victory he described as "convincing" -- though Trump received nearly 3 million fewer popular votes than Clinton.
Putin claimed those he said are trying to undermine Trump "may go as far as staging Maidan-type protests in Washington" to try to prevent him from taking office, a reference to the demonstrations that pushed a Moscow-friendly president from power in Ukraine in 2014.
Putin's comments were the latest in a series of remarks by Russian officials bluntly criticizing the Obama administration in its final weeks, and blaming it for the severe strains in relations between Moscow and Washington in recent years. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, pointedly said that there were no plans for any contacts between Putin and Obama in the final days before Trump's inauguration on January 20.
Ties improved during Obama's first-term "reset" of Russia relations, but they have sunk to lows unseen since the Cold War amid rancor over Moscow's seizure of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, its involvement in the Syrian conflict, and other issues.
Putin expressed hope that Russia and the United States could eventually get their troubled relations back to normal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also lashed out at the Obama administration and expressed hope for better ties under Trump, who takes office on January 20 and has said he wants to improve relations with Moscow.
In wide-ranging remarks at an annual news conference on January 17, Lavrov described the foreign policies of the outgoing U.S. administration and its allies as "messianic" attempts to force "post-Christian" Western values on the rest of the world.
He said Moscow hopes Trump's team will consist of pragmatists "who will not engage in moralizing and will try to understand the interests of their partners just as they clearly uphold their own interests."
Lavrov said that Russia expects to engage in a dialogue with the United States on issues related to strategic stability, including nuclear weapons, after Trump takes office.
He said that specific topics of discussion could include hypersonic weapons, the missile shield the United States is building in Europe, space weapons, and nuclear testing, adding that Russia is ready to meet with Trump's administration for discussions on these topics after he takes office.
Lavrov said that Moscow did not interpret recent remarks by Trump as an offer to scrap sanctions imposed by the United States over Russia's actions in Ukraine and elsewhere in exchange for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
In an interview with The Times of London and the German magazine Bild published on January 15, Trump said: "They have sanctions on Russia -- let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that's part of it."
Lavrov also took aim at U.S. intelligence agencies, saying that they have tried to prove Trump had compromising links to Russia but "have drawn a blank and should be fired, because they've done worthless work."
He described the former British spy who wrote the dossier on Trump's alleged links to Russia, including the account of the alleged episode with prostitutes, as a charlatan.
Lavrov said he hopes Russia and the United States can cooperate more effectively on Syria under Trump than they have during Obama's administration and made clear that Trump's administration is welcome to attend Syria peace talks scheduled for January 23 in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.
Trump transition team members and Russian officials had made conflicting remarks about whether the United States was invited.
Lavrov said one of the main aims of the talks is to "consolidate" a Syrian cease-fire mandated by a deal backed by Russia and Turkey and announced on December 29.
The United States has largely been excluded from the recent Russian-Turkish diplomacy on Syria, where Moscow has backed President Bashar al-Assad's government throughout a 6-year-old civil war that has killed more than 300,000 people, driven many more form their homes, and stoked a refugee crisis in Europe.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.