Putin, of All People, Warns U.S. Against Election Meddling in Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with news agencies and print media editors in Moscow on January 11. Alexey Druzhinin/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the U.S. not to try to influence the outcome of elections in Russia, where he will fight to secure a fourth term in office.

Putin, accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump—as well as in other polls, such as Britain's Brexit referendum—made his comments after journalists questioned why Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny would not be on the ballot later this year.

"Nobody likes it when you meddle in their internal political and domestic affairs," he told journalists. "Our American friends dislike this in particular."

Putin is an odds-on favorite to win the March election, albeit with lower turnout than the Kremlin would like in the face of the increasing voter apathy plaguing recent elections. In addition to a history of vote-rigging in some regions, elections in Russia are frequently uneven battles between the incumbent and a carefully vetted cast of opposition candidates.

Navalny, one of Putin's most vocal critics, will not be on the ballot this March due to a fraud conviction, which he and his supporters claimed was orchestrated in order to disqualify him from running. Asked during a meeting of pro-government journalists about outrage abroad over Navalny, Putin suggested it betrayed a preference for his rival in Washington.

Related: Putin Hails All the 'True Patriots' That Served in the Soviet Union's Brutal Secret Police

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that Russia influenced the 2016 presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect that Russian hackers were behind leaks from the Democratic National Convention, while the most popular social media sites revealed Russia's use of fake accounts, online campaigns and advertisements to influence debate.

"We see their reaction even to the unreliable information about meddling," Putin said, referring to the ongoing investigation.

Turning his attention to Navalny, Putin echoed the response from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs last month, which branded U.S. criticism for the blocking of Navalny and other rivals as "direct interference" in the coming election.

"This obviously speaks to the preferences of the American administration and the leadership of other countries," Putin said. "It tells who they would like to promote in Russia's political sphere and who they would like to see… if not at the helm, than in government.

"In that sense, they blew it," Putin said. "It would have been better to keep quiet."

But in fact, the U.S. government took no official stance on Navalny after he was blocked from running for election, and it was Russian state-run media that first asked for the State Department's response. Neither those nor the subsequent comments obtained by Newsweek mentioned the Kremlin critic by name, instead criticizing the "ongoing crackdown against independent voices, from journalists to civil society activists and opposition politicians."