Russian President Vladimir Putin “couldn’t care less” if his citizens tried to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election, he told NBC News in an interview that was aired on Saturday.

Putin denied the United States’s charge that he had ordered meddling into the November 2016 elections that brought Donald Trump to power. He said it made no difference to him that 13 Russians and three Russian firms were named in an indictment filed by US special counsel Robert Mueller, as they “do not represent the government”.

“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin said. “So what if they are Russians?” Putin said. “I don’t care. I couldn’t care less...They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”

He went on to suggest that of the 13 Russians named, some were not ethnically Russian. “Maybe they are not even Russians, but Ukrainians, Tatars or Jews, but with Russian citizenship, which should also be checked,” he said. “Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

Putin added that Russia neither had the tools nor the will to meddle in elections, and said the United States had not yet provided Russia with any evidence of the alleged interference.