Russian leader Vladimir Putin: President Trump and I 'regularly talk over the phone'
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump talk "regularly," the Russian president told an Austrian news outlet ahead of his visit to Vienna Tuesday.
The Russian leader was responding to a question about special counsel Robert Mueller's February indictment of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations when he brought up his relationship with the American president.
"Indeed, Donald Trump and I have, firstly, met more than once at various international venues," Putin said according to an official transcript available on the Kremlin's website. "And secondly, we regularly talk over the phone," he said.
Neither the White House nor the Russian Embassy responded to requests for comment from CNBC. The two presidents have spoken by phone eight times since Trump was elected, according to readouts available on the White House website.
Putin also addressed the possibility for a summit between Russia and the United States, saying it depends on America's "internal political situation."
"The congressional election campaign is getting under way and then there will be the next presidential election, and the President of the United States is coming under attack over various matters," Putin said.
Russia's state-owned news outlet RT seized on the interview, saying Putin "deflected lunges" from the interviewer who asked about Russian election meddling. "The conversation quickly became tense, with hardball questions and straightforward answers," the outlet reported.
The interview comes amid a backdrop of worsening U.S.-Russian relations, as Mueller continues to investigate whether any of Trump's associates have had improper dealings with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and regularly calls the investigation a "witch hunt."
Putin addresses Russian hacking
Putin's interview with Austrian news presenter Armin Wolf grew heated when Wolf asked about allegations that Putin had meddled in the domestic politics of other countries.
"Please make a distinction between the Russian Government, Russia as a state, Russian citizens and certain legal entities," Putin said, repeating a talking point he has used before.
Putin also denied the accusations against Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, one of the Russians indicted by Mueller who has been accused of orchestrating the so-called "troll farm" that was used to influence American politics in 2016.
"Indeed, he runs a restaurant business, it is his job; he is a restaurant keeper in St Petersburg," Putin said. "But now let me ask you: do you really think that a person who is in the restaurant business, even if this person has some hacking opportunities and owns a private firm engaged in this activity – I do not even know what he does – could use it to sway elections in the United States or a European country?"
Prigozhin was sanctioned by the United States in 2016, before Mueller's indictment. Prigozhin, who has been called "Putin's chef" because he runs a catering business, has received billions of dollars worth of Russian state contracts, including with the Russian military.
Putin has variously denied Russian meddling and said that "patriotically minded" hackers may have been involved separately from the Russian government.
In early 2017, the U.S. intelligence community found that Putin directed his intelligence services to meddle in the presidential election, and assessed that "Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes."
Putin compared Prigozhin to American billionaire George Soros. Soros is regularly the subject of right-wing conspiracy theories and has donated to Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton. He operates the Open Society Foundations, one of the largest charitable organizations in the United States, which seeks to promote democracy overseas.
"There are rumors circulating now that Mr. Soros is planning to make the euro highly volatile," Putin said, without providing evidence. Soros is known for making $1 billion on a bet against the British pound in 1992.
"Experts are already discussing this. Ask the State Department why he is doing this. The State Department will say that it has nothing to do with them – rather it is Mr. Soros' private affair. With us, it is Mr. Prigozhin's private affair," Putin said. "This is my answer. Are you satisfied with it?"
Representatives from the Open Society Foundations did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.