U.S Senate candidate Dan Sullivan attacked opponent Mead Treadwell on Monday for attending a "pro-Putin rally" on Capitol Hill this month, but Treadwell said the attack highlights Sullivan's limited understanding of Alaska and Russian issues.
"Mead, what were you thinking?" said a press release from Sullivan's campaign. On Facebook, the Sullivan campaign implied that Treadwell "met with Putin allies at a gathering that undermined U.S. foreign policy."
Both items linked to a Daily Beast article about the 34th annual World Russia Forum, held in mid-June at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the American University in Moscow, Treadwell said.
The "celebration of U.S.-Russian relations quickly turned into a pity party for the Kremlin's die-hard American apologists," Daily Beast writer James Kirchick said of the forum. Most speakers "denounced American policy towards Russia, defended the actions of Vladimir Putin, and ferociously attacked anyone who disagreed with them."
The article was titled "Meet the Anti-Semites, Truthers, and Alaska Pol at D.C.'s Pro-Putin Soiree." It said Treadwell spoke at the event and was there to "gush about the importance of U.S.-Russian relations" for the state's economy.
Treadwell was quoted as saying, "Do not forget: We are neighbors because people will be affected."
Tell that to the Ukrainians, Kirchick commented.
In an interview Monday, Treadwell said he did not defend Putin "in any way, shape or form."
"That an anti-Russian blogger wanted to say that anyone who showed up was a lapdog for Putin is nonsense, and Dan Sullivan ought to know better," Treadwell said.
On June 16, Treadwell spoke at the event as Alaska's lieutenant governor, on a panel on relations between the two countries. He agreed to attend in order to highlight key issues affecting Alaskans, most importantly that Obama's weak policies have encouraged the Russian president's expansionist agenda, Treadwell said.
Treadwell said he noted at the event that Putin is increasing Russia's military in the Arctic and wants to control Arctic shipping. The U.S. must respond by beefing up its presence in the Far North, Treadwell said.
"For Dan Sullivan to listen to this blogger who doesn't know what he's taking about rather than the Alaskans he wants to represent" shows that he's tone-deaf to important issues facing Alaska, Treadwell said in a phone interview.
A request for an interview with Sullivan was denied. His campaign said it would not comment.
Sullivan, a former assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, has repeatedly said he does not attack his Republican primary opponents but is focused on bringing down Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat.
On June 16, before the Daily Beast story appeared, Treadwell's state office issued a release describing his participation at the forum. In addition to calling for more U.S. infrastructure in the Arctic and expanded trade between Alaska and Russia, Treadwell discussed the need for "cooperation with Russia despite disputes over Crimea and Ukraine, Syria and Iraq, which have brought U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest point in decades," the release said.
"My challenge to Russians is this: Where we are neighbors, help bring our relations back to normal," Treadwell was quoted as saying at the event. "Help us eliminate salmon bycatch in the North Pacific Ocean. Help us work together to prevent oil spills from all these ships coming through, and help us protect food security in the Arctic. Alaskans depend on this ocean for food and for jobs."
On Monday, Treadwell said the thrust of his message was "America has been surprised in Eastern Europe. It's been surprised in the Middle East. I don't want America to be surprised in the Arctic."