Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Tuesday that Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election in the United States, describing the allegations as “simply rumors” that are being leveraged for political reasons in the United States.
Putin made the denial during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met with Putin at his Black Sea summer home in Sochi, Russia.
The meeting is coming at a time when German-Russian relations have become increasingly strained over the war in Syria and Russia’s annexation of neighboring Ukraine.
Putin’s remarks are at odds with findings from U.S. intelligence agencies that have reported that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts, which were intended to benefit Republican Donald Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Before the meeting, Putin said it was an opportunity to discuss Ukraine and Syria, although Merkel signaled no major breakthroughs were expected.
The two leaders last met in Germany last October in an attempt to revive the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine.
Although a peace agreement mediated by Germany and France in 2015 has helped reduce the fighting, violence has continued.
On Syria, Germany has been firmly opposed to Russia’s support for President Bashar Assad. Merkel has suggested that Russia was partly responsible for atrocities resulting from airstrikes Russian forces have carried out in civilian areas.
Putin told Germany’s foreign minister during a visit in March that “it is our common goal to normalize relations and to make sure all of the difficulties we face are overcome.”
Also during the meeting, Merkel asked Putin to help ensure the rights of gays in Chechnya, one day after Russian police arrested gay rights activists.
During a May Day parade on Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, Russian police arrested about 20 protesters, including the leader of an organization that is helping gay men escape from Chechnya, where they are subject to torture and other types of abuse.
Russia has stringent rules on political activity in public places and Putin defended Russian police after meeting with Merkel, saying they have acted within the law when breaking up recent rallies.
“Russia’s law-enforcement bodies behave in a far more restrained manner than their colleagues in other European countries,” Putin said at the news conference.