- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2018

The U.S. ambassador to Russia has pushed back against a rising storm of accusations from Moscow that America is meddling in Russia’s upcoming presidential election.

“I don’t know how that’s possible,” the ambassador, Jon Huntsman, told the Russian state-owned TASS news service on Monday.

Russia’s presidential election is scheduled for March 18 with incumbent Vladimir Putin a clear favorite to win a fourth term.

Recent opinion polls show Mr. Putin has a lead of more than 60 percent over seven other official candidates.

Against the backdrop of more than a year of unprecedented controversy and debate in America over the possible extent that Russia influenced the 2016 U.S. presidential election, recent weeks have seen Kremlin mouthpieces ratchet up claims that the U.S. is trying to meddling in Russia’s democracy.

On Monday during a visit to Kazan, a southwestern Russia city on the banks of the Volga and Kazanka rivers, Mr. Huntsman flatly denied the accusations.

“The meddling charges are a little bit nonsensical and I sometimes worry that this becomes an escalation of words when one side accuses the other of meddling,” the U.S. ambassador said, adding that “we care deeply about the relationship.”

TASS also reported Monday that Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, will present an annual report later this week “on interference in Russia’s affairs,” with sections detailing what Moscow sees as meddling in the current presidential election campaign.

Regarding the hot-button issue of sanctions against Russia, Mr. Huntsman told TASS he has no new information about when more restrictions could be announced as part of a law passed last year by Congress to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and actions in Ukraine.

“[Congress] will move in whatever direction they feel is appropriate,” Mr. Huntsman said.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday his agency could soon announce sanctions based on information from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election meddling, which charged 13 Russian nationals earlier this month with scheming to interfere in the 2016 election and help President Trump win.

• Dan Boylan can be reached at dboylan@washingtontimes.com.

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