On a day when Trump criticized Russia for its “destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including, Syria and Iran,” but continued to equivocate on the Kremlin’s role in the 2016 election, Sitov offered his perspective on the ever-growing contention.
“The ultimate goal of the Russians in this meeting, and I'm quoting my ambassador here, Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak, is 'normalcy,'” Sitov said. “They want to come back to the normal state of relations.”
But although Trump has heaped praise on Putin many times in the past, Putin might not hold Trump in as high regard. “Mr. Trump himself, even before he was president, referred to [Putin] saying, ‘This guy calls me a genius.’ This is not entirely true,” Sitov explained. “The Russian word 'yarkii' means out of the ordinary, a person standing out. So he did call him a standout politician, that's for sure.”
Sitov dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. “This is a little bit loose, in the way that Americans use the word 'Russia' in this whole context,” he said. “Because I don't know what Russian hackers do. ... There are millions of people on the internet every day, that's for sure. I don't know how many of them are hackers but saying 'Russia' about all of them is ... simply not true.”
Echoing Trump’s comments from earlier today, Sitov continued: “It could have been Russian hackers. It could have been somebody else.”
Like some in the U.S., Sitov insisted that the Russia investigation was a waste of taxpayer money, and that instead of focusing on the Kremlin, Americans should focus on the leaking of classified information. “I think it's an internal American matter,” Sitov said, downplaying any Russian involvement completely. “The Americans are fighting each other. I think America is the strongest country in the world, economically, politically, militarily, and no one can do much harm to America from the outside, but if the Americans want to do harm to themselves on the inside, what can we do?”
While it’s uncertain as of now whether Trump will bring up the issue of Russian hacking at his meeting with Putin, Sitov opined that another contentious issue -- the status of Russian compounds in America -- is relatively minor. “The Russian compounds is a small issue. It's an irritant, obviously. But I don't even know if it's an issue to be raised at the level of the leaders, of the heads of state of the two countries.”
So far, Sitov has not been called on during the Trump presidency, and he himself admits that the optics are not good. "They, I guess, do not want to produce even the impression of talking too much to the press, especially the Russian press," he said.
Sitov has long been a presence in the White House briefing room, and recently gained notoriety for repeatedly interrupted then-President Barack Obama’s final press conference, shouting, “You attacked Russia!”