On June 27th, Putin sat down for an in-depth interview with the editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, as well as its Moscow Bureau Chief, Henry Foy. Unfortunately, the article is behind a paywall, but I’ve included some important excerpts below with a bit of my own commentary in italics. I have quoted Putin at length to convey his thoughts more clearly and accurately. What he says is so often misrepresented and/or taken out of context in western media.
Rules of International Relations During Cold War vs. Now; Now is More Dangerous
Putin: [D]uring the Cold War, the bad thing was the Cold War. It is true. But there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow. Now, it seems that there are no rules at all. In this sense, the world has become more fragmented and less predictable, which is the most important and regrettable thing.
On Disagreements with Previous U.S. Presidential Administrations Since 2000 – Particularly on Abrogation of ABM Treaty
Putin was asked to discuss his relationships with all 4 different U.S. presidents that he has dealt with since he took office in 2000. He mentions that there were plenty of times that he had disagreements – “debates” and similar language is a diplomatic way of saying there were arguments or conflicts. He specifically mentions the abrogation of the ABM Treaty by the Bush II administration. This is probably because it is seen as paving the way for the continuing dismantlement – at Washington’s behest – of the nuclear arms control apparatus.
Putin: .We debated this matter for a long time, argued and suggested various solutions. In any event, I made very energetic attempts to convince our US partners not to withdraw from the Treaty. And, if the US side still wanted to withdraw from the Treaty, it should have done so in such a way as to guarantee international security for a long historical period. I suggested this, I have already discussed this in public, and I repeat that I did this because I consider this matter to be very important. I suggested working jointly on missile-defence projects that should have involved the United States, Russia and Europe. They stipulated specific parameters of this cooperation, determined dangerous missile approaches and envisioned technology exchanges, the elaboration of decision-making mechanisms, etc. Those were absolutely specific proposals.
I am convinced that the world would be a different place today, had our US partners accepted this proposal. Unfortunately, this did not happen. We can see that the situation is developing in another direction; new weapons and cutting-edge military technology are coming to the fore. Well, this is not our choice. But, today, we should at least do everything so as to not aggravate the situation.
About That 2016 Election…
I’ve read and viewed many interviews with Putin over the years and he actually seems to have a pretty good grasp of U.S. history and politics. After the 2008 financial crisis, during speeches in international fora, he also provided a critique of the unequal affects resulting from how global capitalism has been organized. In addition to a law degree, Putin worked on an economics dissertation when he was a young man, so he’s not ignorant of these issues. His analysis of how Trump won is similar to that of others who did not get caught up in partisan diversions.
Putin: Russia has been accused, and, strange as it may seem, it is still being accused, despite the Mueller report, of mythical interference in the US election. What happened in reality? Mr Trump looked into his opponents’ attitude to him and saw changes in American society, and he took advantage of this….
Has anyone ever given a thought to who actually benefited and what benefits were gained from globalisation, the development of which we have been observing and participating in over the past 25 years, since the 1990s?
China has made use of globalisation, in particular, to pull millions of Chinese out of poverty.
What happened in the United States, and how did it happen? In the United States, the leading US companies -the companies, their managers, shareholders and partners – made use of these benefits. The middle class hardly benefitted from globalisation…The middle class in the United States has not benefited from globalisation; it was left out when this pie was divided up. The Trump team sensed this very keenly and clearly, and they used this in the election campaign. It is where you should look for reasons behind Trump’s victory, rather than in any alleged foreign interference. This is what we should be talking about here, including when it comes to the global economy.
The Russia-China Relationship
Putin was asked if Russia was putting too many of its eggs “in the China basket.”
Putin: First of all, we have enough eggs, but there are not that many baskets where these eggs can be placed. This is the first point.
… Let me point out that the Friendship Treaty with China was signed in 2001, if memory serves, long before the current situation and long before the current economic disagreements, to put it mildly, between the United States and China….
….Yes, Russia and China have many coinciding interests, this is true. This is what motivates our frequent contacts with President Xi Jinping. Of course, we have also established very warm personal relations, and this is natural. Therefore, we are moving in line with our mainstream bilateral agenda that was formulated as far back as 2001, but we quickly respond to global developments. We never direct our bilateral relations against anyone. We are not against anyone, we are for ourselves.
Putin: However, of course, we have to admit that it is not only about China’s industrial subsidies on the one hand or the tariff policy of the United States on the other. First of all, we are talking about different development platforms, so to speak, in China and in the United States. They are different and you, being a historian, probably will agree with me. They have different philosophies in both foreign and domestic policies, probably.
But I would like to share some personal observations with you. They are not about allied relations with one country or a confrontation with the other; I am just observing what is going on at the moment. China is showing loyalty and flexibility to both its partners and opponents. Maybe this is related to the historical features of Chinese philosophy, their approach to building relations.
Therefore I do not think that there would be some such threats from China. I cannot imagine that, really. But it is hard to say whether the United States would have enough patience not to make any rash decisions, but to respect its partners even if there are disagreements. But I hope, I would like to repeat this again, I hope that there would not be any military confrontation.
The Future of the New START Treaty
As has been documented here over the course of several weeks, Putin is again pointing out that Washington is showing no interest in preserving what little is left of the nuclear arms control agreements. It is being reported that John Bolton is gunning for the destruction of the New START treaty as would be expected.
Putin: We said that we are ready to hold talks and to extend this treaty between the United States and Russia, but we have not seen any relevant initiative from our American partners. They keep silent, while the treaty expires in 2021. If we do not begin talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even for formalities.
Our previous conversation with Donald showed that the Americans seem to be interested in this, but still they are not making any practical steps. So if this treaty ceases to exist, then there would be no instrument in the world to curtail the arms race. And this is bad.
China’s “Military Buildup”
Putin: You mentioned the build-up of naval forces in China. China’s total defence spending is $117 billion, if memory serves. The US defence spending is over $700 billion. And you are trying to scare the world with the build-up of China’s military might? It does not work with this scale of military spending. No, it does not.
Putin: Any decision-making process is accompanied by risk. Before taking one’s chances, one has to meticulously assess everything. Therefore, risk based on an assessment of the situation and the possible consequences of the decisions is possible and even inevitable. Foolish risks overlooking the real situation and failing to clearly comprehend the consequences are unacceptable because they can jeopardise the interests of a great number of people.
On Assad Stepping Down in Syria
Putin: When we discussed this matter only recently with the previous [Obama] administration, we said, suppose Assad steps down today, what will happen tomorrow?
They said, “We don’t know.” But when you do not know what happens tomorrow, why shoot from the hip today? This may sound primitive, but this is how it is.
Therefore, we prefer to look at problems thoroughly from all possible angles and not to be in any hurry. Of course, we are perfectly aware of what is happening in Syria. There are internal reasons for the conflict, and they should be dealt with. But both sides should do their bit. I am referring to the conflicting parties.
On Defining and Imposing Democracy Abroad
Putin: Incidentally, the President of France said recently that the American democratic model differs greatly from the European model. So there are no common democratic standards. And do you, well, not you, but our Western partners want a region such as Libya to have the same democratic standards as Europe and the United States? The region has only monarchies or countries with a system similar to the one that existed in Libya.
But I am sure that, as a historian, you will agree with me at heart. I do not know whether you will publicly agree with this or not, but it is impossible to impose current and viable French or Swiss democratic standards on North African residents who have never lived in conditions of French or Swiss democratic institutions. Impossible, isn’t it? And they tried to impose something like that on them. Or they tried to impose something that they had never known or even heard of. All this led to conflict and inter-tribal discord. In fact, a war continues in Libya.
Putin: But when a person enters a square, raises his eyes to the sky and proclaims himself president? Let us do the same in Japan, the United States or Germany. What will happen? Do you understand that this will cause chaos all over the world? It is impossible to disagree with this. There will be pure chaos. How could they act like this? But no, they started supporting that person from the very outset.
He may be a very good person. He may be just wonderful, and his plans are good. But is it enough that he entered a square and proclaimed himself president? Is the entire world supposed to support him as president? We should tell him to take part in elections and win them, and then we would work with him as the state leader.
Liberalism – Immigration
Probably the most talked about portion of the interview involved Putin’s discussion of liberalism. He talked about different aspects of liberalism: immigration, gender and sexuality, and as part of the diversity of ideas. I have divided up the quotes accordingly.
As some context, it should be remembered that the Soviet Union was a closed off society for 70 years. Typically, Soviet citizens could not travel outside of the country. When a society has been closed off for a long time, it’s to be expected that the society will be socially and culturally conservative. Moreover, after Soviet society disintegrated, many Russians became interested in their pre-Soviet culture in which the conservative Orthodox Church played an important role. This pre-Soviet Russian cultural heritage has also been looked to as a form of social cohesion, some form of which was necessary to hold the country together as it tried to find its way out of the crisis of the 1990’s/early 2000’s and toward stability.
Putin: What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the United States? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people.
Of course, we must always bear this in mind. One of the things we must do in Russia is never to forget that the purpose of the operation and existence of any government is to create a stable, normal, safe and predictable life for the people and to work towards a better future.
There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose. Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.
When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered. Although those who have run into difficulties because of political problems in their home countries need our assistance as well. That is great, but what about the interests of their own population when the number of migrants heading to Western Europe is not just a handful of people but thousands or hundreds of thousands?
…. As for the liberal idea, its proponents are not doing anything. They say that all is well, that everything is as it should be. But is it? They are sitting in their cosy offices, while those who are facing the problem every day in Texas or Florida are not happy, they will soon have problems of their own. Does anyone think about them?
Liberalism – Gender and Sexuality
Putin: So, the liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population. Or take the traditional values. I am not trying to insult anyone, because we have been condemned for our alleged homophobia as it is. But we have no problems with LGBT persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish. But some things do appear excessive to us.
They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles. I cannot even say exactly what genders these are, I have no notion. Let everyone be happy, we have no problem with that. But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.
Liberalism Within the Diversity of Ideas
Various ideas and various opinions should have a chance to exist and manifest themselves, but at the same time interests of the general public, those millions of people and their lives, should never be forgotten. This is something that should not be overlooked.
Then, it seems to me, we would be able to avoid major political upheavals and troubles. This applies to the liberal idea as well. It does not mean (I think, this is ceasing to be a dominating factor) that it must be immediately destroyed. This point of view, this position should also be treated with respect.
…. For this reason, I am not a fan of quickly shutting, tying, closing, disbanding everything, arresting everybody or dispersing everybody. Of course, not. The liberal idea cannot be destroyed either; it has the right to exist and it should even be supported in some things. But you should not think that it has the right to be the absolute dominating factor. That is the point.
Read the full transcript of the interview here.