Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to recent descriptions of him by US President Joseph Biden in an exclusive interview with US TV channel NBC aired Monday ahead of a summit between the two leaders in Geneva.
Putin commented on a range of issues during the interview, including Russian-US relations, the Navalny case, the Ryanair flight landing in Belarus, the situation in Ukraine and China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority
At the beginning of the interview, Putin was asked about the remarks by Biden, who previously called him “an autocrat” and responded positively to a question asking if he believed Putin to be “a killer.”
Putin said he had experienced a lot of attacks during his presidency and that such things neither baffle him nor prevent him from moving in the right direction “to secure the interests of the Russian state.”
“It’s macho behavior that is part of US political culture, where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here. It is not considered normal here. If this rhetoric is followed by a suggestion to meet and discuss bilateral issues and matters of international policies, I see it as a desire to engage in joint work. If this desire is serious, we’re prepared to support it,” he said.
As for the story Biden often recounts of his last known face-to-face meeting with Putin in which he told him that “he has no soul,” the Russian president said he did not remember the episode.
Putin also categorically denied that he had anything to do with the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, which Biden intends to discuss with him as well.
He stressed that Navalny should not be given any kind of special treatment in prison and that everyone should be in an equal situation.
Putin added that he was not surprised that Biden asked him to meet with him without any preconditions because it is understandable “what problems Americans want to discuss.”
“We know what constitutes priorities for the US side. And this is, generally speaking, a process that needs to be advanced at the professional level along the lines of the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry on the Russian side, the Pentagon and the State Department of the US side. We are prepared for this work,” he said.
He added that there were signals that the US side would like to see these negotiations at the expert level of professionals.
“We will see if the conditions for this have been created following the summit. Of course, we are not saying no. We are ready to do this work,” he said.
Asked about Biden’s meeting with the Group of Seven (G7) and NATO before the meeting with him on June 16, Putin said he did not see “anything unusual about it.”
“As a matter of fact, it’s a sign of respect to the US allies before a summit between the US and Russian presidents. Probably it is being presented as a desire to find out their opinion on the key issues of the current agenda, including those issues that President Biden and I will discuss,” he said.
Overall, Putin expects “a professional approach” from Biden and that the two leaders will be able to find some points of contact.
Putin calls for asking Ryanair chief pilot about Minsk incident
Turning to the incident last month involving a Ryanair flight landing in Belarus, Putin said he learned about it from the media. He confirmed that he spoke about the incident with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who told him the plane landed because of information about an explosive device onboard.
Putin wondered why the plane’s chief pilot was not asked about what happened, as his evidence could clarify the situation.
“Ask the commander of the aircraft. Did you ask him if was he forced to land? Because I have not heard or seen an interview with the commander of the aircraft that landed in Minsk. Why not ask him? Why not ask him if he was forced to land? Why don’t you ask him? It’s actually even odd. Everybody accuses Lukashenko, but the pilot hasn’t been asked,” he said.
Putin then recalled a similar situation where the plane of Bolivia’s president was forced to land in Vienna, Austria on the orders of the US administration.
“Air Force One, a presidential plane, was forced to land. The president was taken out of the aircraft. They searched the plane. And you don’t even recall that.
Do you think it was normal, that was good, but what Lukashenko did was bad? In Bolivia, they viewed it as a humiliation of the whole country. But everybody kept mum not to aggravate the situation. Nobody is recalling that. So, what is it of Lukashenko? If it was him [that ordered the plane to land], you gave him an example to follow,” he said.
As for the situation in Ukraine, including the presence of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border, Putin said they were engaged in military exercises held strictly on Russian territory.
“Now, at our southern borders, there is a war game, Defender Europe, [with] 40,000 personnel, 15,000 units of military equipment. Part of them have been airlifted from the US continent directly to our borders. Did we airlift any of our military technology to the US borders? No, we did not,” he said.
Putin pointed out that Washington “brought thousands of personnel, thousands of units of military equipment” close to Russia’s borders while Russia only holds military exercises within its territory, and yet it accuses Moscow of “acting aggressively.”
China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang
Asked about China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, Putin said he perceives such questions as an attempt to destroy the relationship between Russia and China.
“We can see attempts at destroying the relationship between Russia and China. We can see that those attempts are being made in practical policies. And your questions, too, have to do with it.
“I’m confident that the Chinese leadership being aware of the totality of these matters, including the part of their population who are Uyghurs, will find the necessary solution to make sure that the situation remains stable and benefits the entire multi-million-strong Chinese people, including its Uyghur part,” he said.
Russia insists on distributing humanitarian aid in Syria through ‘central government’
Russia insists that humanitarian aid should be given “just as it should be done in the entire world,” “as it is provided for in the provisions of international humanitarian law” — through the central government, said Putin.
This along with attacks from some border crossings in Syria are reasons why Russia intends to close them for humanitarian convoys, he said.
“If there are grounds to believe that the central government of Syria will plunder something, well, set up observers on the part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to oversee everything.
“I don’t think that anybody in the Syrian government is interested in stealing some part of this humanitarian assistance. It just needs to be done through the central government. And in this sense, we support President [Bashar al-] Assad because a different mode of behavior would be undermining the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic. And that’s all,” he said.
Putin added that in the Idlib zone, Turkish troops “effectively control” the border between Turkey and Syria, and “convoys cross the border without any restrictions on their numbers in both directions.”