MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said Thursday the U.S. is only hurting itself with investigations of alleged collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia, and the Kremlin leader vowed he won’t allow the radical opposition at home to challenge the status quo as he seeks re-election.

At his annual news conference, Putin also mocked his most visible critic, Alexei Navalny, saying that those like the opposition leader want to drive Russia into chaos ahead of the March 18 presidential election in Russia.

Brimming with self-confidence during the nearly four-hour session, Putin reaffirmed his denial of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“All of it was invented by people who oppose President Trump to undermine his legitimacy,” Putin said in remarks that mirrored Trump’s arguments. “I’m puzzled by that. People who do it are inflicting damage to the country’s domestic political situation, incapacitating the president and showing a lack of respect to voters who cast their ballots for him.”

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the election to help Trump, a Republican, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump last month lashed out at those agencies’ former heads, calling them “political hacks” and arguing there were plenty of reasons to be suspicious of their findings.

Putin said Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, whose contacts with Trump’s campaign are part of the probes by Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller, was only performing his routine duties.

“It’s a universally accepted practice when diplomatic envoys and even government officials meet candidates and their teams to discuss some issues, prospects for development, trying to get an idea what they will do if they come to power and how to respond to that,” Putin said.

Putin also praised Trump’s successes, saying that global markets have demonstrated investors’ confidence in his economic course. “We can objectively see quite serious achievements even during his short time in office,” Putin said.

The Russian leader said he and Trump had spoken on a first-name basis on the sidelines of two international summits this year, and he voiced hope that Trump eventually would be able to improve ties with Russia.

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