Russian lawmakers have been reacting with outrage to the resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, calling it the result of American paranoia towards Moscow and a campaign by Trump’s opponents to damage relations between Russia and the United States.
Flynn resigned on Monday after it emerged that he misled White House officials about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington ahead of Trump’s inauguration.
In his resignation letter, Flynn said he had “inadvertently” briefed Vice President Mike Pence and others with “incomplete information” on calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn came under fire for discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia with the ambassador back in December.
The Kremlin has confirmed the calls but denied the sanctions were mentioned.
A series of senior lawmakers in Moscow came to Flynn’s defense on Tuesday, saying he had been forced out for seeking dialogue with Russia.
“Even a readiness for dialogue is perceived by the hawks in Washington as thought-crime,” Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of Russia’s senate foreign affairs committee wrote in a post on his Facebook account.
“To force a national security adviser to resign for contacts with the Russian ambassador (a usual diplomatic practice) -— it’s not even paranoia but something immeasurably worse,” Kosachev wrote.
Before joining Trump’s team, he traveled to Moscow in 2015 as a private citizen to speak at a conference hosted by RT, the Russian government-backed English language news channel, where he promoted closer cooperation.
Flynn’s attendance at the conference, where he was seated next to Putin, prompted critics to question his independence.
On Tuesday, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov called Flynn’s resignation “an internal affair” for America.
The controversy around Flynn came against a backdrop of confusion and suspicion around Trump’s relationship to Russia, even as the president has suggested he hopes to improve relations with Moscow.
A U.S. intelligence assessment released in January accused Putin of meddling in the U.S. election to undermine the democratic process. The report said the Russian interference showed a "clear preference," for Trump.
Prominent Russian government officials have celebrated Trump's election victory as a chance to rebuild relations and have derided the accusations of interference as a “red scare” effort to weaken Trump.
On Wednesday, several well-known Russian government figures derided Flynn’s resignation as more of the same anti-Russia provocations.
“Paranoia and a witch-hunt,” Aleksei Pushkov, a prominent Russian senator and television host, wrote on his Twitter account.
Kosachev, the Russian senate committee chairman, said Flynn’s resignation dampened hopes that Trump’s administration would be able to seek warmer relations with Moscow.
"Either Trump has not acquired the sought-for independence,” Kosachev wrote. “Or Russophobia has already permeated the new administration from top to bottom”.
Pushkov, known for his bombastic statements, went further, echoing a state media propaganda line. “The expulsion of Flynn was Act 1. The marked man now is Trump himself.”