Transcript of the interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin by Keir Simmons of NBC News, which took place in Moscow on June 11, 2021. [extracts]
[The interview was conducted in an aggressive and insulting manner towards Putin, the interviewer saying things like: ‘President Biden said you have no soul’ and ‘you are a killer’, ‘China sides with the US against you’ etc. Putin remained calm and put the Russian point of view. Editorial sub-headings and summaries are in square brackets. Please note that when Putin remarks that the US have a law to control foreign agents, he is referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) passed in 1938, which requires
“individuals doing political or advocacy work on behalf of foreign entities in the United States to register with the Department of Justice and to disclose their relationship, activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of their activities” (see US Congress Research Service here.)]
NBC: Well, President Biden says — one time when you met, you were inches away from each other, close to each other. And he said to you, “I’m looking in your eyes, and I can’t see a soul.” And you said, “We understand each other.” Do you remember that exchange?
[Putin: I don’t remember.]
[There is no proof of Russian government involvement, but the problem is increasing for Russia as well]
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, the simplest thing to do would be for us to sit down calmly and agree on joint work in cyberspace. We did suggest that—
KEIR SIMMONS: In September.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: —to Obama’s administration in Octo— – we started in September and – during his last year in office. In October at first, they didn’t say anything. Then in November, they came back to us and said that, yes, it was interesting. Then— the election was lost.
We restated— this— proposal to Mr. Trump’s administration. The response was that it is interesting, but no— it didn’t— it didn’t— it didn’t come to the point of actual negotiations. There were— there are grounds to believe that we can build an effort— in this area with the new administration, that the domestic political situation— in the U.S. will not prevent this from happening.
But we have proposed to do this work together. Let’s agree on the principles of mut— mutual work. Let’s find out what we can do together. Let’s agree on how we will structure counter-efforts against the process that is— gathering momentum.
We here in the Russian Federation have— cyber crimes that have increased— many times over in the last few years. We’re trying to respond to it. We’re looking for cyber criminals. If we find them, we punish them.
We are willing to engage with international participants, including the United States. You are the ones who have refused to engage in joint work. What can we do? We cannot build— this work, we cannot structure this work unilaterally.
Cyberspace is a very sensitive area. As of today, a great deal of human endeavors rely upon digital technologies, including the functioning of— government. And of course interference in those processes can cause a lot of damage and a lot of losses. And everybody understands that. And I am repeating a third time— for the third time: Let’s sit down together and agree on joint work on how to— achieve security in this area. That is all.
Once— I— I repeat one more time. It is my hope that we will be able to start engaging in positive work in this area. In terms of what’s to be afraid of, why is it that we suggest agreeing on something? Because what— people can be afraid of in America, are worried of in America, the very same thing can be a danger to us. U.S. is a high-tech country. NATO has declared cyberspace an area of— combat. That means they are planning something. They are preparing something. So obviously this cannot but worry us.
[About Navalny and the suppression of two media outlets, and the law on foreign agents]
Many entities of the so-called “civil society,” the reason I say “so-called civil society” is because many of those entities are funded from abroad. Specific relevant action programs are prepared. Their core members are trained abroad. And when our official authorities see that, in order to prevent this kind of interference in our domestic affairs, we make relevant decisions and adopt relevant laws.
And they are more lenient than yours*. You have— we have a saying: “Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly.” It has nothing to do with you personally. But if somebody blames us for something, what I say is, “Why don’t you look at yourselves?” You will see yourselves in the mirror, not us. There is nothing unusual about it. As far as political activities and the political system, it is evolving. We have 44 registered parties. Well, 34 I think. And 32— are about to participate in various electoral processes—
[* Putin pointed out that the US have had similar laws about foreign interference since the thirties: ‘you are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently. You have mentioned the law on foreign agents, but that’s not something that we invented. That law was passed back in the 1930s in the United States. And that law is much harsher than ours, and it is directed and intended, among other things, at preventing interference in the domestic political affairs of the United States’—]
[NBC: Did you order the assassination of Navalny?]
‘Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn’t go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands. 450 people—
KEIR SIMMONS: You’re talking about the Capitol riot.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: —have been detained. They’re facing— they’re looking— they’re— they’re looking at jail time, between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn’t that persecution for political opinions? Some have been accused of plotting to topple— to take over-government power. Some are accused of— robbery. They didn’t go there to rob. The people who you have mentioned, yes, they were convicted for violating their status, having been previously convicted— given convent— given suspended sentences— which were essentially warning to not— violate the Russian laws.
And they completely ignored the requirements of the law. The court went on and— passed— and turned the conviction into real jail time. Thousands and thousands of people ignore— requirements of the law, and they have nothing to do with political activities, in Russia every year and they go to jail. If somebody— if somebody is actually using political activities as a shield to deal with their issues, including— achieve their commercial— goals, then— it’s something that they have to be held responsible for.
[NBC: Are you a killer?]
Look, I am— over my tenure, I’ve g— gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of— pretexts and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness. And none of it surprises me. People with whom I work and with whom we argue, we— we are not bride and groom. We don’t swear everlasting love and friendship.
We are partners. And in some areas, we are rivals or competitors. As far as harsh rhetoric, I think that— this is an expression of overall U.S. culture. Of course in Hollywood, because we mentioned Hollywood at the beginning of our conversation, there are some— deep things— in— Hollywood— macho— which can be treated as— cinematographic art but more often than not it’ s macho behavior that is part of— U.S.- 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 desire to engage in joint work. If this desire is serious, we’re prepared to support it.
[Russia as an aggressive military menace, conducting provocative exercises]
Now, at our southern borders, there is— there is a war game, Defender Europe, 40,000 personnel, 15,000 units of military equipment. Part of them have been airlifted from the U.S. continent directly to our borders. Did we airlift any of our military technology to the U.S. borders? No, we did not.
Look, we— did we— did we say that we were planning to send our armed formations anywhere? We were conducting war games on— in our territory. How can this not be clear? I’m saying it again because I want your audience to hear it, your— listeners to hear it— both on the screens of their televisions and on the internet.
We conducted military exercises in our territory. Imagine if we sent our troops into direct proximity to your borders. What would have been your response? We didn’t do that. We did it in our territory. You conducted war games in Alaska. God bless you.
But you had crossed an ocean, brought thousands of personnel— thousands of units of military equipment close to our borders, and yet you believe that we are acting aggressively and somehow you’re not acting aggressively. Just look at that. Pot— pot calling the kettle black.
[Exchange of prisoners, sentenced for civil crimes; case of an American sentenced for drunken attack on Russian policeman]
He— he got drunk on vodka and started a fight. He fought a cop. There is nothing offensive about it. These things happen in life. There is nothing— nothing horrible about it. It happens to our men as well. Somebody— somebody— gulps down some vodka and starts a fight. So you violate the law, you go to prison. What would have happened if he’d— fought a cop, if he’d hit a cop in your country? He would have been shot dead on that spot, and that’s the end of it. Isn’t that the case?
Look, look. I— look. Please listen to me carefully. His name can be anything. He’s one of the individuals who are in prison. For me, he one of the citizens of the Russian Federation who has been found guilty by a court of law and is in prison. There are many citizens like that.
By the way, our so-called prison population— the people who are in prison, has in the last few years— been reduced by almost 50%, which I consider a big victory for us and— a major sign of— our legal system becoming more humane.
We do not believe that China is a threat to us. That’s one. China is a friendly nation. It has not declared us an enemy, as the United States has done.
The level— both in terms of the amount of— ammunition and— warheads and— delivery vehicles, the United States and Russia are far, far ahead of China. And the Chinese justly say, “Why would we make reductions if we are already far behind what you have? Or do you want us— do you want us to freeze our level— of nuclear deterrence?
“Why should we freeze? Why we a country with a 1.5 billion population cannot at least set the goal of achieving your levels?” These are all debatable issues that require thorough consideration. But— making us responsible for China’s position is just comical.
[NBC: China’s biggest banks have not contravened American sanctions against Russia. Do you think you get 100% support from 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 have set forth my position for you.
I believe that this is sufficient, and 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.
Well, honestly, I don’t think that Mr. Rogozin, that is the name of the head of— Roscosmos, has threatened anyone in this regard. I’ve known him for many years, and I know that he is a supporter— he is a supporter of expanding the relationship with the U.S. in this area, in space.
Recently, the head of NASA spoke in the same vein. And I personally fully support this. And we have been working with great pleasure all of these years, and we’re prepared to continue to work. For technical reasons though, and that’s a different matter, is that the International Space Station is— coming to an end of its service life.
And maybe in this— regard, the Roscosmos does not have plans to continue their work. However— based on what I heard from— our U.S. partners they, too, are looking at future cooperation in this particular segment in their certain— in a certain way.
But on the whole, the— cooperation between our two countries in space is a great example of a situation where despite any kind of problems in political relationships in recent years, it’s an area where we have been able to maintain and preserve the partnership and both parties cherish it.
I think you just misunderstood the head of the— Russian space program said. We are interested in continuing to work with the U.S. in this direction, and we will continue to do so if our U.S. partners don’t refuse to— to— to do that. It doesn’t mean that we need to work exclusively with the U.S.
[Asked about his successor]
You know, I have linked my entire life to— my entire fate to the fate of my country to such an extent that there isn’t a more meaningful—goal in my life than the strengthening of Russia. If anybody else— and if I see that person, even if that person is critical of some areas of what I have been doing, if I can see that this is an individual who has constructive views that he or she is— committed to this country and is prepared to sacrifice his entire life to this country, nor just some years, no matter his personal attitude to me, I will make sure, I will do everything to make sure that such people will get support.
It is a natural biological process. At some point, someday, we will all be replaced. You will be replaced at where you are. I will be replaced at where I am. But I am confident that the fundamental pillar of— the Russian economy and statehood and its political system will be such that Russia will be firmly standing on its feet and look into the future confidently.