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Kremlin Asserts Putin Was Not Influenced By Flynn-Kislyak Meeting

U.S. prosecutors say Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the United States in December 2016 discussed sanctions that the Obama administration had imposed on Moscow for alleged interference in the election.

The Kremlin says that Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to hold off on retaliating against new U.S. sanctions last year was made "absolutely independently," without any influence by Michael Flynn.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comments on December 4, three days after Flynn -- who briefly served as U.S. national security adviser under President Donald Trump -- pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Flynn also agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the actions of Trump's inner circle during the 2016 U.S. election campaign and after he took office on January 20.

U.S. prosecutors said Flynn and Sergei Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, in December 2016 discussed sanctions that President Barack Obama's administration had imposed on Moscow for alleged interference in the election.

The United States at the time accused two leading Russian security agencies of involvement in cyberespionage, and ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and the seizure of two Russian diplomatic country retreats.

That was followed in January by a U.S. intelligence-community report saying that the Russian government undertook a concerted effort to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump.

Putin said on December 30 that he would wait to see how relations developed under Trump -- who was president-elect but was weeks away from taking office -- before responding to the new sanctions.

After U.S. lawmakers passed a bill imposing additional sanctions on Russia, Moscow went ahead and took what it said were retaliatory measures in July, ordering a drastic cut in U.S. diplomatic personnel.

In his comments on December 4, Kremlin spokesman Peskov insisted that Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador did not influence Putin's response to the U.S. sanctions.

He said the Russian president didn't know of Flynn's alleged request to refrain from an immediate response.

Flynn was not in a position to ask Kislyak to do anything, Peskov said, calling the idea "absurd."

The spokesman insisted that Putin's decision not to respond immediately to the U.S. sanctions "could not have been connected to any requests or recommendations."

Also on December 4, Trump renewed criticism of Mueller's investigation and said that he felt "very badly" for Flynn.

"He's led a very strong life, and I feel badly about it," Trump said before heading off on a trip to the state of Utah.

Flynn faces up to five years in prison for the charge of lying to the FBI, but his sentencing could also depend on the extent of his cooperation with investigators.

He was forced out as national security adviser in February, after just 24 days in the post, amid revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Kislyak.

Flynn is the fourth person to be criminally charged in connection with the investigation.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted in October on charges that included conspiracy and lying to federal agents.

Former foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents and is cooperating with Mueller's investigators.

Russia denies it meddled in the U.S. election, despite what U.S. intelligence officials say is powerful evidence, and Trump denies there was any collusion between his associates and Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP