Russian broadcasters mocked the Republican lawmakers who visited Moscow over the Fourth of July holiday and gloated about the Kremlin's role in electing President Donald Trump.
Seven U.S. senators and one congresswoman -- Sens. Steve Daines (R-MT), John Hoeven (R-ND), Ron Johnson (R-WI), John Kennedy (R-LA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Richard Shelby (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) -- traveled to Russia for closed-door meetings with high-ranking Kremlin officials.
Shelby led the delegation on tours of St. Petersburg and Moscow, where they met with Russia's foreign minister and parliamentarians, but did not meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin, as they'd hoped.
#Russia's state TV: "GOP lawmakers sounded tough on Russia when speaking from Washington, but changed their rhetori… https://t.co/mN5mhTI8Z4— Julia Davis (@Julia Davis)1530634508.0
The trip was planned months ago, before Trump's White House invitation to Putin was shifted instead to a private one-on-one meeting between the two presidents.
“We know that we need a new beginning, that we can go over recriminations on both sides for days in," Shelby said at the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. "But I believe Russia and the United States and the world will be a lot better off if we improve our relationship.”
The Alabama Republican dismissed the widespread agreement among U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, but Russian TV hosts disagreed.
"What trouble did we cause?" one Russian TV analyst said last week, before the senators arrived. "We just elected Trump, that's all."
The GOP lawmakers started their trip last weekend in St. Petersburg, where they were welcomed by Gov. Georgy Poltavchenko, a former KGB officer and Putin ally, and then met Lavrov and former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, whose contacts with Trump campaign officials ahead of the election have been eyed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The all-Republican delegation also met with Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Duma house of parliament, and Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the foreign relations committee -- who each have been sanctioned by the U.S. for their ties to Putin.
Daines insisted the GOP lawmakers had been tough on Russia.
“We sent a very strong message and a direct message to the Russian government,” Daines told Fox News.
The Montana Republican, who returned from the trip early to join Trump at a campaign rally in his home state, said the lawmakers asked Russia not to interfere in U.S. elections, respect Ukraine's sovereignty, work alongside the U.S. for peace in Syria, and follow obligations under nuclear arms treaties.
Kislyak, who is now a member of Russia’s upper house of parliament, wasn't impressed.
“We heard things we’d heard before, and I think our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly an answer that they already knew — we don’t interfere in American elections,” he said.
Trump last week sided with Putin on whether Russia interfered in the election he won, and he praised the Russian president to supporters in Montana.
"Putin is fine, he's fine," Trump said. "We are all fine, we're all people."
Russian broadcasters mocked the Republican lawmakers as "weak," saying their tough talk changed after arriving in Moscow.
“We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did,” said Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko on state-run television.
Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov said the meeting with the Republican lawmakers was "one of the easiest ones in my life."