New York/Moscow: US politicians have turned an investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential elections into a witch hunt to settle domestic political scores, according to the head of Russia’s second-largest bank.
“This is effectively a new Cold War," VTB Group chief executive officer Andrey Kostin said in an interview at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Thursday. “It is, absolutely, from the side of America."
Congressional investigations into whether Donald Trump or his associates had improper contact with Russia are heating up, with the probes shifting toward a public phase that’s inching closer to the president himself. Fired FBI director James Comey may testify as soon as next week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, where he will face questioning over whether Trump urged him to drop the Russia probe. The Senate panel also plans to hear at some point from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest aides.
Trump has continued to dismiss the probes — labelling them a “Witch Hunt" in a tweet Wednesday — saying that Democrats are still sore about losing the election. Kostin also described them that way and said they were damaging US-Russian relations already at a low.
“Russia is just some kind of playing card in domestic politics, when a substantial part of the American elite who are opposed to Trump is preventing him from performing his duty as president," said Kostin, whose bank is under US sanctions. “The Russia relationship is held hostage to this."
Kostin dismissed the threat of new sanctions against Russia, although he said he’s no longer counting on relief from the penalties. After Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections last year, when he pledged to build better relations with Russian President Vladmir Putin, Kostin predicted that sanctions against Russia imposed in 2014 after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine would be eased or scrapped.
Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Banking Committee announced a plan Wednesday to strengthen sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine and in Syria, where Russian forces have conducted airstrikes since 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels backed by the U.S. and its allies.
Russian officials have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in restoring relations with the US under Trump after ties all but collapsed with the Obama administration. Putin and Trump may meet for the first time at the Group of 20 summit in Germany on 7-8 July.
Trump sparked fierce controversy in the US last month by firing Comey, who was heading the investigation into possible collusion between his presidential campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 elections.
Kostin, a former diplomat in the Soviet Union’s embassy in London, defended Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose meetings with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Kushner are at the center of the investigations.
“For an ambassador, the more contacts he has, the better he performs," Kostin said. “I don’t see why this is considered to be treason in America. Ambassadors exist for only one reason: to have contacts." Bloomberg