President Donald Trump's national security adviser John Bolton said Monday in Moscow he thinks Russia's meddling in the 2016 US election did not have any effect on the outcome and warned Russian officials that, from a "very cold blooded cost benefit ratio," interfering in the American electoral process is not worth the trouble.
"The point I made to Russian colleagues today was that I didn't think, whatever they had done in terms of meddling in the 2016 election, that they had any effect on it, but what they have had an effect in the United States is to sow enormous distrust of Russia," Bolton said, according to a transcript of his interview with Radio Echo Moscow provided by the National Security Council.
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"And it's a major obstacle to achieving agreement on issues where our national interest may converge, so I said, just from a very cold blooded cost benefit ratio, that you shouldn't meddle in our elections because you're not advancing Russian interest, and I hope that was persuasive to them," he added.
Bolton was responding to a question asking what he thinks "is the most effective way to stop Russia" after the US Department of Justice's recent indictment of a Russian national charged with interfering in the upcoming US midterm elections.
His assertion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election goes a step beyond the US intelligence community's January 2017 assessment:
"We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion."
Bolton's comments come days after US intelligence and law enforcement agencies released a joint statement that said "identifying and preventing this interference is a top priority of the Federal Government."
"We are concerned about ongoing campaigns by Russia, China and other foreign actors, including Iran, to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies. These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 US elections," the statement said.
"Elements of these campaigns can take many forms, including using social media to amplify divisive issues, sponsoring specific content in English-language media like RT and Sputnik, seeding disinformation through sympathetic spokespersons regarding political candidates and disseminating foreign propaganda," it said.
In August, Bolton warned that the US will not tolerate Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections, attempting to reaffirm the administration's strong opposition to Moscow's influence over the democratic process after Trump failed to raise the issue during his summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
"I made it clear that we wouldn't tolerate meddling in 2018 and that we were prepared to take necessary steps to prevent it from happening," Bolton told reporters after meeting with his Russian counterpart in Geneva, Switzerland.
In addition to the issue of election interference, Bolton discussed a wide range of issues with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, including arms agreements, Syria, Iran, North Korea and the fight against terrorism according to a tweet by the US embassy in Russia.
"@AmbJohnBolton began started his trip to Moscow meeting the Secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev. They've discussed a wide range of issues including arms agreements, Syria, Iran, North Korea and fight against terrorism," the tweet reads.
Putin will meet with Bolton on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to state-run news agency TASS.
"Tomorrow the president will receive Bolton," TASS quoted the Kremlin spokesman. "The meeting will be important, and we will have to hear explanations on a great variety of topics." Peskov added.
On Monday the Russian government said it would be forced "to take measures" if the United States began developing new missile systems, ratcheting up the rhetoric after US President Donald Trump said he would ditch a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty.
Trump told reporters on Saturday that he intended to withdraw the country from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed by the Soviet Union and United States in 1987 during the final years of the Cold War.