Transcript of NBC News' exclusive interview with Russia's Vladimir Putin

Here is the full transcript of the NBC News interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin that took place in Moscow on June 11, 2021. The interviewer is Keir Simmons from NBC News.

KEIR SIMMONS: Mr. President, it has been a long time since you teamed up with an American television station. Almost three years, I think. Thanks for your time. There’s a lot to talk about. I hope we have time to come to all of the topics. But I would like to start – with – some news from the USA – today. In the US, it is reported that Russia may be preparing within months to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system that will enable Tehran to pursue military targets. Is that true? (NBC Note: President Putin’s interpreter translates the underlined question from English into Russian as follows: “According to US reports, Russia is preparing new hacks for military facilities in the next few months for the benefit of Iran’s nuclear program. Is that? True? “)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Would you mind repeating the question that we are preparing what kind of facilities to hack?

KEIR SIMMONS: No. It is – it – that – today’s report is that – Russia is preparing to give or offer to Iran satellite technology that will enable Iran to make – military – targets. (LAUGHING) (NBC note: President Putin’s interpreter translates this question from English into Russian as follows, adding the underlined sentence: “There have been reports that Russia is planning to transfer satellite technology to Iran for military purposes pursue and meet. “)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No. We don’t have these kinds of programs with Iran. No, it’s just nonsense again. We have cooperation plans with Iran, including military and technical cooperation. And all of this fits within the framework of the decisions that were agreed in our program regarding the Iranian nuclear program within the framework of UN resolutions together with our partners in the preparation of the JCPOA, whereby punctual sanctions, also in the military area and technical cooperation, are based on the Iran should be lifted.

We have certain programs that – affect conventional weapons, if that happens. However, we are not even there yet. Even in the area of ​​conventional weapons, we have no real cooperation. So if – if anyone – invents something related to – modern space-based technology, it is just – pure fiction. That’s just – fake news. At least I don’t know anything about that. Those who talk about it probably know more about it. It’s just nonsense, garbage.

KEIR SIMMONS: So I suppose you agree that providing Iran with satellite technology that could allow it to attack US soldiers in places like Iraq – or share that information with Hezbollah or the Houthis in Yemen so that they can Israel and Saudi Arabia could target (DINGS) that it would be dangerous to give Iran this type of satellite technology?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, why are we talking about problems that don’t exist? There is no subject for discussion. Somebody – invented something, made something up. Perhaps this is just a fake story to restrict any kind of military and technical cooperation with Iran.

I’ll say again – that’s just – some fake information that I am not aware of. This is the first time I have heard of this information from you. I – we have – that kind of – intentions. And I’m not even sure if Iran is even able to accommodate this type of technology.

This is a separate topic, a very high tech topic. We do not exclude cooperation with many world nations in space. But – everyone probably knows our position in the sense that we are categorically against the militarization of space.

We believe that space should be free of all kinds of weapons that are in the vicinity of low-earth orbits. We have neither such plans nor plans, especially with regard to technology transfer at the level you describe.

KEIR SIMMONS: So let’s get to your summit with President Biden. The context for the summit is that it will meet with the G7, a group that you used to belong to – NATO, European – leaders. President Biden defined his first trip to Europe as a quote “to gather the democracies of the world”. He sees you as the leader of autocrats determined to undermine the free democratic order. Is that true?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I don’t know. Someone is presenting it from a certain perspective. Someone really sees this situation evolving and yours (THROAT CLEARING) in a different way. All of this is offered to the public in a manner deemed appropriate to the ruling classes of a given country.

There is nothing unusual about President Biden meeting with his allies. There is nothing unusual about a G7 meeting. We know what G7 is. I’ve been there on numerous occasions. I know the values ​​in this forum.

When people get together and discuss something, that’s always good. It is better than not getting together and not discussing. Because even in the context of the G7 there are things that require constant attention and reflection, because there are – as strange as it may seem – differences.

There may be – differences in the assessment of international events on the international stage and between them. And – well then – let’s sit down and discuss it. As for NATO, I have said on many occasions, “This is a relic of the Cold War.” It’s something that was born in the Cold War area -. I’m not sure why it still exists.

There was a time and there was talk that this organization would be transformed. Now it’s kind of been forgotten. We assume that it is a military organization. It is an ally of the United States. Every now and then it makes sense to meet with your allies, although I have an idea of ​​how the discussion goes there.

Of course, everything is decided by consensus. However, there is only one opinion that is correct. Whereby the other opinions – to put it mildly – are not entirely correct. Well, let’s go. Allies come together. What is – so unusual about it?

I don’t see anything unusual about that. Indeed – it is a sign of respect for US allies ahead of a summit meeting between the US and Russian presidents. It is likely presented as a desire to hear your views on the main issues on the current agenda, including the issues that President Biden and I will be discussing.

However, I am inclined to believe that, despite all these subtleties in relation to Russia, the United States will promote what it deems important and necessary for itself, especially for itself, in its economic and military interests. However, hearing what your allies have to say probably never hurts. This is working procedure.

KEIR SIMMONS: So let’s talk about – your meeting with President Biden, the summit that will take place after these meetings. President Biden has asked you to meet with him. He didn’t make any preconditions. Were you surprised

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to rock bottom over the past few years. There are, however, matters that require – some degree of – comparing comments and – the identification and establishment of mutual positions, so that matters of mutual interest can be dealt with efficiently and effectively in the interests of the United States and Russia.

So there is nothing unusual about it. Despite the seemingly harsh rhetoric we were expecting, these proposals because the US domestic agenda made it impossible for us to restore the relationship to an acceptable level – this meeting should have taken place at some point.

So President Biden started this initiative. Before that, as you will know, he had supported the extension of the START contract, which of course had to be supported by us. We believe that this is a treaty on the containment of – strategic offensive weapons – that – elaborated and thorough – suits our interests and the interests of the United States. This offer – could – was to be expected.

KEIR SIMMONS: Will you go to the summit – agree – start – to start further arms control talks immediately after the summit? Because, as you mention, President Biden has extended the new START by five years. Washington wants this to be the beginning, not the end, of this conversation.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We know what matters and what problems Americans want to discuss with us, we understand these questions, matters and problems. We are prepared for this joint work. We have – certain, if not differences – a different understanding of what pace – at what pace and in which directions we have to move.

We know what priorities are for the US side. And – that is – in general, it is a process that needs to be promoted on a professional level along the lines of the State Department – and the Department of Defense on the Russian side, the Pentagon and the US State Department.

We are prepared for this work. We have heard signals that the US side would like to resume these negotiations at this level – at the expert level from professionals. After the summit we will see whether the conditions are in place. Of course we don’t say no. We are suggested – do this work.

KEIR SIMMONS: President Biden wants predictability and stability. Is it that what you want?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, those are the most important things. This is the most important thing. That is, if you will, the most important value in international affairs.

KEIR SIMMONS: Sorry to interrupt. But he would say that you caused a lot of instability and unpredictability.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, he says one thing. I am saying something else. But maybe at some point – in some ways our rhetoric varies and is different. But if you ask for my opinion now, I’ll tell you what it is. The most important value in international affairs is predictability and stability.

And I believe that on the part of the US partners, this is something that we have not seen in the past few years. What stability and predictability could there be, if we remember the events in Libya in 2011, when the country was essentially dismantled, dismantled?

What kind of stability and predictability was there? There is talk of a sustained troop presence in Afghanistan. And then suddenly, boom! The troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan. What, is this predictability and stability again?

Now the events in the Middle East. Is that predictability and stability, what will it all lead to? Or in Syria? What is stable and – predictable about it? I asked my US colleagues: “You want Assad to leave? Who will replace him? What happens if someone – he is replaced by someone?”

The answer is strange. The answer is, “I don’t know.” Well, if you don’t know what’s going to happen next, why change what is there? It could be a second Libya or another Afghanistan. Do we want that? No. Let’s – sit together, talk, look for compromise solutions that are acceptable to all parties. This is how stability is achieved. It cannot be achieved by imposing a certain point of view, the “right” point of view, where all others are wrong. That way, stability is not achieved.

KEIR SIMMONS: Let’s move on to a few other subjects. I just want a little more about your relationship with –

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, please.

KEIR SIMMONS: – President Biden. This will not be the Helsinki Summit. President Biden is – is not President Trump. You once described President Trump as a bright and talented person. How would you describe President Biden?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I already believe that former US President Mr. Trump is an exceptionally talented person, otherwise he would not have become US President. He is a colorful person. You may like him or not. And, but it didn’t come from the US establishment.

He wasn’t part of big politics before, and some like it, some don’t, but that’s a fact. President Biden is, of course, radically different from Trump because President Biden is a career man. He has spent practically all of his adult life in politics.

He’s been doing this for many years and I’ve said that before and that’s an obvious fact. Just think how many years he spent in the Senate and how many years he was involved in international politics and disarmament, as it were at an expert level.

This is a different kind of person, and I very much hope that there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will be no knee-jerk reactions from the incumbent US President, which we can safely comply with rules of engagement, certain communication rules and contact points and common Find points.

KEIR SIMMONS: Well, President Biden says – when you met once, you were inches apart, close together. And he said to you, “I look into your eyes and I can’t see a soul.” And you said: “We understand each other.” Do you remember that exchange?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As for the soul, I’m not sure. one has to think about what soul is. But I don’t remember that particular part of our conversations to be honest. I do not remember. All of us, when we meet, when we meet, when we talk, when we work and strive for and achieve solutions, we all start from the interests of our nations and our states. And this is fundamental and forms the basis of all of our actions and intentions. And – that is the driving force and the motive to organize such meetings. And – as far as the soul is concerned, that is something for the church.

KEIR SIMMONS: Yes. You are a religious man. President Biden says he said to your face, “You have no soul.” (LAUGH)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I don’t remember that.

KEIR SIMMONS: He says it was about –

(CROSS LANGUAGE)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: – Something is wrong with my memory.

KEIR SIMMONS: – it was 10 years ago, 10 years ago, when he was Vice President, he says.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, he probably has a good memory. I – I – I – I’m not ruling this out, but I don’t remember it. In face-to-face encounters, people try to act appropriately. I cannot recall any inappropriate behavior from my colleagues. I don’t think anything like that – happened. Maybe he said something, but I don’t remember.

KEIR SIMMONS: Would you have thought that was inappropriate?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, it depends on the context. It depends on the form in which they are said. You can say that in different ways. It can be presented in different ways. But in general, people meet to build a relationship and create an environment and conditions for working together to achieve positive results.

If – you – are going to quarrel with someone else – why bother and – hold a meeting? You’re better off – if you look at budgetary and social policy – domestically. We have many problems that we need to solve. Then what’s the point? It’s just – a waste of time.

Of course, this can be presented and presented for domestic consumption, which I believe has been done in the US over the past two years, where US-Russian relations have been sacrificed to a fierce political dispute within the US, we can see that.

We know very well. We have been accused of all sorts of things: election interference, cyberattacks, and so on and so on. And not once, not once, not once have they bothered to produce any evidence or evidence. Only unfounded allegations. I am surprised that we have not yet been accused of provoking the Black Lives Matter movement. That would have been a good line of scrimmage. But-

KEIR SIMMONS: What do you think –

VLADIMIR PUTIN: We didn’t do that.

KEIR SIMMONS: What do you think of the Black Lives Matter movement?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I think that this movement was of course used by one of the domestic political forces during the elections – campaigns. But there is – th – th – there are several reasons for that. Let’s remember Colin Powell, who was Secretary of State and who ran the Pentagon.

Even he wrote in his book that even as a senior civil servant he had felt some kind of injustice to himself all his life – as someone with dark complexion. Even in the Soviet days and in Russia, we have always treated African-Americans’ struggle for their rights with understanding.

And it has certain roots. And – there is – there is a certain – basis for it. But no matter how noble the goals someone pursues, if it reaches certain extremes, if it spills over into – if it adopts elements of extremism – we – we – we cannot approve of that.

We cannot welcome it. So our approach to this is very simple. We support the fight of African Americans for their rights, but we are against all kinds and types of extremism, which unfortunately, unfortunately, we are sometimes, unfortunately, witnessing right now.

KEIR SIMMONS: You mention cyber

VLADIMIR PUTIN: – these days.

KEIR SIMMONS: You mention cyberattacks – and deny any involvement – by Russia. But Mr President, there is a lot of evidence now, a long list of alleged government sponsored cyberattacks. Let me give you five. There’s a lot, but it makes a point. US intelligence says Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

Election security officials said Russia was trying to disrupt the 2020 elections. Cyber ​​security researchers said government hackers targeted COVID vaccine researchers and hacked for COVID vaccines. In April, the Treasury Department said the SolarWinds attack was the world’s worst, targeting n – including not – targets, including nine federal agencies. And right before your summit, Microsoft says it discovered another attack with targets including organizations that you criticized – Mr Putin. Mr. Presi – President, are you waging a cyber war against America?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Dear Keir, you said that there is ample evidence of cyberattacks by Russia. And then you listed these – US officials who have said so much. Is that what you did?

KEIR SIMMONS: Well, I – tell –

(CROSS LANGUAGE)

KEIR SIMMONS: I’ll give you information on who said it so you can respond.

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Right. Law. You give me information about who said that. But where is evidence that this was actually done? I’m going to tell you that this person said that, that person said this. But where is the evidence? Where is the evidence? With – if – if charged – without – evidence, I can tell you you can take your complaint to the International League for Sex Reform.

This is a no-topic conversation. Put something on the table so we can look and answer. But there is no such thing. The last thing – one of the last attacks, as far as I know, was against the US pipeline system. Right, yes. So what?

KEIR SIMMONS: But that’s – but – the c – you – you mention –

(CROSS LANGUAGE)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Just a moment. As far as I know, the company’s shareholders even chose to pay the ransom. You paid off the cyber gangsters. If you’ve listed a whole bunch of US specialty services (powerful, global, reputable), at least they can find out who paid the ransom.

And – if you do that, you will see that Russia has nothing to do with it. Then there is the cyberattack on a meat processing plant. Next time they will say that there was an attack on some Easter eggs. It becomes a farce, like an ongoing farce, a never-ending farce. You said “a lot of evidence” but you did not provide any evidence. But this – again, this is – this – this is an empty conversation, a meaningless conversation. What are we talking about exactly? There is no proof.

KEIR SIMMONS: You moved on to this question of – ransomware and – and – criminals. Russian-speaking criminals, the allegation, target the American way of life: food, gas, water, hospitals – transportation. Why should you let Russian-speaking criminals disrupt your diplomacy? Wouldn’t you – you want to know who’s responsible?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, the easiest thing would be if we sit down quietly and agree to work together in cyberspace. We have suggested that –

KEIR SIMMONS: In September.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —to Obama’s administration in October —— we started in September and — during his last year in office. In October they said nothing at first. Then they came back to us in November and said yes it was interesting. Then the choice was lost.

We repeated – this – proposal to the Trump administration. The answer was that it was interesting, but no – it didn’t – it didn’t – it didn’t get to the real negotiations. There was – there is reason to believe that we can make efforts in this area with the new administration – that the domestic political situation in the US will not prevent this.

But we suggested doing this work together. Let’s agree on the principles of courage – mutual work. Let’s find out what we can do together. Let us agree on how to structure countermeasures against the process of gaining momentum.

We here in the Russian Federation have increased many times over in recent years – cybercrime has increased. We try to respond to it. We’re looking for cyber criminals. If we find them, we will punish them.

We are ready to work with international participants including the United States. It is they who refused to work together. What can we do? We cannot build this work, we cannot structure this work unilaterally.

KEIR SIMMONS: Well, I am not the government, Mr. Putin. I’m just a journalist asking – you –

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I understand that.

KEIR SIMMONS: – Questions. But if you do – you clearly want to negotiate. You must have something to negotiate. You – you don’t ask for a truce unless you are fighting in a war.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, about the war, NATO – and I would – I want to draw your attention to that. N – NATO has officially stated that it regards cyberspace as a battlefield, an area for – military action –

(CROSS LANGUAGE)

KEIR SIMMONS: And you are part of it –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: —This is training—

KEIR SIMMONS: -Field.

WLADIMIR PUTIN: —it conducts — it conducts—

KEIR SIMMONS: Russia is—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It is doing exercises on this battlefield.

KEIR SIMMONS: – fight on this battlefield. Correct?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No. No. No, that’s not correct.

KEIR SIMMONS: Really?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: That is not correct. Really. If we were going to do that, NATO said it viewed cyberspace as an area of ​​struggle. And – it prepares and even performs exercises. What is preventing us from doing this? If you do, we’ll do the same. But we don’t want that. Just as we don’t want space to be militarized, we also don’t want cyberspace to be militarized. And we have proposed on many occasions that we should agree to work together on cybersecurity in this area.

KEIR SIMMONS: It – I –

VLADIMIR PUTIN: – in this area. But your – your – your government refuses.

KEIR SIMMONS: Isn’t – I mean, I saw your proposal from – September, just September. Isn’t that what you’re suggesting? That if you can agree on hacking and electoral interference, if America agrees not to comment on your elections and your political opponents, you will cancel the hacking and electoral interference?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What we are counting on is that nobody should interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, neither the US in ours nor we in the political processes of the US or any other nation. All nations of the world should be given the opportunity to develop calmly

Even if there are crisis situations, these must be resolved by the people at home, without outside influence or interference. I don’t think this call from the US administrator is worth anything to today’s government. I – it seems to me that the US government will continue to interfere in – in – political processes in other countries.

I don’t think this process can be stopped because it has gained a lot of momentum. However, when it comes to working together in cyberspace to prevent some unacceptable acts by cyber criminals – cyber criminals – one can definitely agree. And it is our great hope that we can establish this process with our US partners.

KEIR SIMMONS: If you were in America what would you fear that might happen next? Will the lights be turned off like in Western Ukraine in 2015?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You mean, if I were in America, what – what – what would I be – you mean, if I were American, what would I be afraid of?

KEIR SIMMONS: What—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Is that the question?

KEIR SIMMONS: What should Americans be concerned about? What could happen next if there is no agreement on cyber?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, it’s like the militarization of space. This is a very dangerous area. At some point the USSR and the US agreed to stem this particular arms race in order to achieve something in the nuclear field in relation to the confrontation over nuclear weapons.

Cyberspace is a very sensitive area. Today, many human endeavors rely on digital technology, including the functioning of government. And of course, interfering with these processes can cause a lot of damage and loss. And everyone understands that. And I repeat a third time – for the third time: let’s sit down and agree on a common work to – achieve security in this area. That’s all.

What is – what is wrong with it? I don’t even understand. I am not – I am not asking you. I’m not trying to get to the point. But – for me as – as a normal citizen that would not be clear and understandable. Why does your government refuse – to do it?

Accusations are repeatedly raised, including – interference – participation in a cyber attack against a kind of meat processing company. But our proposal to start negotiations in this area is rejected. That’s kind of nonsense, but that’s exactly what happened.

Once – I – I repeat again. I hope we can start positive work in this area. In terms of what to be afraid of, why do we suggest we agree on something? Because what – what people in America can be afraid of, what they are worried about in America, exactly the same thing can be a danger to us. The USA is a high-tech country. NATO has declared cyberspace to be a combat zone. That is, they are planning something. You are preparing something. Obviously, this can only worry us.

KEIR SIMMONS: Are you concerned that the American secret service is deep in the Russian systems and has the ability to do you great damage in the cyber field?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am not afraid, but I remember that it is a possibility.

KEIR SIMMONS: Let me ask you about – human rights – an issue that – President Biden – is going to raise – Mr President. He will raise the question of Alexei Navalny, who is being assassinated in a Russian prison. Mr President, why are you being threatened so much by the opposition?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Who says that I feel threatened by the opposition or that we are threatened by the opposition? Who told you that – who told you that –

KEIR SIMMONS: Nun ja, ein russisches Gericht hat gerade…

WLADIMIR PUTIN: -dass ich Angst vor Widerstand habe?

KEIR SIMMONS: Nun – gut –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Es ist – es ist einfach lustig –

KEIR SIMMONS: A Ru – entschuldigen Sie. Es tut mir Leid. Ein russisches Gericht hat gerade Organisationen verboten, die mit Herrn Nawalny in Verbindung stehen. Buchstäblich jeder nicht-systematische Oppositionelle wird angeklagt. Im Journalismus – Meduza und VTimes wurden mit „Auslandsagenten“-Etiketten getroffen – und stehen vor dem Zusammenbruch. Herr Präsident, es ist, als würde in Russland Dissens einfach nicht mehr geduldet.

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Das – nun, Sie präsentieren es als Dissens und Intoleranz gegenüber Dissens in Russland. Wir sehen das ganz anders. Sie haben das Gesetz über ausländische Agenten erwähnt, aber das haben wir nicht erfunden. Dieses Gesetz wurde bereits in den 1930er Jahren in den Vereinigten Staaten verabschiedet. Und dieses Gesetz ist viel strenger als unseres, und es ist unter anderem darauf gerichtet und beabsichtigt, eine Einmischung in die innenpolitischen Angelegenheiten der Vereinigten Staaten zu verhindern.

KEIR SIMMONS: Aber – aber – aber, Herr Präsident –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Und im Großen und Ganzen glaube ich, dass es gerechtfertigt ist.

(ÜBERSPRACHE)

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Willst du, dass ich behalte – willst du, dass ich antworte –

KEIR SIMMONS: Hören Sie, ich werde nur-

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Soll ich weiter antworten?

KEIR SIMMONS: In Amerika nennen wir das, was Sie jetzt tun, “Whataboutism”. “Was ist damit? Was ist damit?” Es ist eine Möglichkeit, die Frage nicht zu beantworten. Lassen Sie mich Ihnen eine direkte Frage stellen. Hast du – hast du – hast du –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Ich – ich –

KEIR SIMMONS: —hast du—

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Ich w- ich- ich werde-

KEIR SIMMONS: Lass mich dich fragen –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Ich – ich werde nachsehen. Ich werde schauen-

KEIR SIMMONS: Lass mich fragen –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Lass mich – lass – lass mich antworten. Sie haben mir eine Frage gestellt. Meine Antwort gefällt dir nicht, also unterbrichst du mich. Das ist – das ist unangemessen. Also los geht’s. In den Vereinigten Staaten wurde dieses Gesetz vor langer Zeit verabschiedet. Es funktioniert, und die Sanktionen nach diesem Gesetz sind viel härter –

KEIR SIMMONS: Da gehst du, ich rede immer noch darüber –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: —als hier—

KEIR SIMMONS: -Vereinigte Staaten.

WLADIMIR PUTIN: – bis – bis zur Freiheitsstrafe. Ja Ja Ja. Wieder lässt du mich nicht… Aber ich werde – ich werde – ich werde zu uns zurückkehren. Ich werde zu uns zurückkehren. Mach dir keine Sorgen. Ich werde nicht nur – ich werde mich nicht nur auf US-Probleme konzentrieren. Ich werde – ich werde zurückkehren und zurückgehen und kommentieren, was passiert –

KEIR SIMMONS: Weil – ich – weil –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: – über das, was hier passiert.

KEIR SIMMONS: Weil, Mr. Pre – Mr. President, ich – ich dachte, Ihre – ich dachte Ihre – Überzeugung war, dass Nationen nicht in die inneren Angelegenheiten anderer Länder eingreifen sollten, sich nicht zu anderen äußern sollten –

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Richtig.

KEIR SIMMONS: —Länder“—

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Richtig.

KEIR SIMMONS: -Politik. Aber da bist du und machst es wieder.

WLADIMIR PUTIN: Nein. No. Wenn… Sie Geduld aufbringen und mich zu Ende sagen lassen, was ich sagen will. Alles wird dir klar sein. But you are not liking my answer. You don’t want my answer to be heard by your audience. That is the problem. You are shutting me down. Is that a free expression—

KEIR SIMMONS: Please answer.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —or is that free expression American way? So thank you very much. Here we go. The U.S. adopted this law. We passed this law very recently in order to protect our society against outside interference. We’re in some of the— states, a foreign observer comes to a polling station.

The prosecutor says, “Come a l— few feet closer, and you’ll go to jail.” Ist das normal? Is that democracy in the modern world? But— that is an actual practice in some of the states. We don’t have anything like that . When I talk about these laws about noninterference or attempts at interference, what do I mean as applied to Russia?

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—

KEIR SIMMONS: Those are the registered—

(OVERTALK)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —across this country in— September. Yes, yes—

KEIR SIMMONS: We only have a limited amount of time, Mr. President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is also non-systemic opposition. You have said that some people have been detained. Some people are—

KEIR SIMMONS: Those are the ones that are being—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —in prison. Yes, that is all true. You mentioned certain names.

KEIR SIMMONS: In prison—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes, yes. I will— I will— I will— I will talk about it. Yes. I— I will— I will not leave any of your questions—

KEIR SIMMONS: Alexei Navalny—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —unattended.

KEIR SIMMONS: —is— is his name. Can I ask you— can I just ask you—

(OVERTALK)

KEIR SIMMONS: —a direct question? Did you order Alexei Navalny’s assassination?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course not. We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody. That’s one. Number two is I want to ask you: 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: There you go again, Mr. President. “What about America?” when I’ve asked you about Russia. Let me ask you— you mentioned Congress. Let me ask you another direct question that you— can answer. And it’s an allegation that has been made, an accusation that has been made again and again now— in the United States.

The late John McCain— in Congress called you a killer. When President Trump was asked— was told that you are a killer, he didn’t deny it. When President Biden was asked whether he believes you are a killer, he said, “I do.” Mr. President, are you a killer?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: I don’t— I don’t— I don’t think I heard you answer the question, the direct question— Mr. President.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I did answer. I did answer. I will add— if you let me, I have heard dozens of such accusations, especially during the period of— some grave events during our counterterrorism efforts in North Caucuses. And when it happens, I’m always guided by the interests of the Russian people and Russian state. And— sentiments in terms of who calls somebody what, what kind of labels, (THROAT CLEARING) this is not something I worry about in the least.

KEIR SIMMONS: Th— let me give you some names. Ann— Anna Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead. Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium. Sergei Magnitsky, allegedly beaten and died in prison. Boris Nemtsov, shot moments from the Kremlin, moments from here. Mikhail Lesin— died of— blunt trauma in Washington, D.C. Are all of these a coincidence, Mr. President? (LAUGH)

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, you know, I don’t want to come across as being rude, but— this looks like— some kind of— indigestion, except that it’s verbal indigestion. You mentioned many individuals who indeed suffered and perished at different points in time for various reasons at the hand of different individuals.

You mentioned Lesin. Lesin used to work in my administration. I— liked him very much. He died— he perished or died in the United States. I’m not sure if he perished or died. We should ask you how exactly he perished. I— regret to this day that he is not with us. In my opinion, he’s a very decent person.

As far as— the others, we found some of the criminals who committed— those crimes. Some are in prison, and we are prepared to continue to work in this mode and— along this avenue identifying everybody who violate the law and by their actions cause damage, including to the image of the Russian Federation.

However—just piling everything together is— meaningless— inappropriate, and baseless. If— one sees it as a line of attack, then very well. Let me listen to it— one more time. But I repeat it— I— I’d like to repeat that I have heard it— many times. But this doesn’t baffle me. I know which direction to move in to secure the interests of the Russian state.

KEIR SIMMONS: Let’s move on— to Belarus and Ukraine— two— issues that will certainly come up in— in your summit— with— President— Biden. Did you have prior knowledge that a commercial airliner would be forced to land in (THROAT CLEARING) Belarus and that— a journalist would be arrested?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. I did not know about this. I didn’t know— about any airliner. I didn’t know about the people who were detained there subsequently. I found out about it from the media. I didn’t know— I didn’t have a clue about any detainees. I— I— I don’t know. It— it is of no interest to us.

KEIR SIMMONS: You appear to have approved of it— judging by your meeting with President Lukashenko soon afterwards.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not that I approve of it. Not that I condemn it. But, well, it happened. I said recently in one of the conversations— with a European— colleague— the version of Mr. Lukashenko who told me about it was that— information had been given to them that there was an was an explosive device— on board the plane. They informed—

KEIR SIMMONS: And you believe that?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —the pilot without forcing the pilot to land. And the pilot made a decision to land in Minsk. That is all. Why should I not believe him? Ask the pilot. It’s the simplest thing. Ask the— ask the chief pilot. Ask the commander of the— aircraft. Did you ask him if was he forced to land? Because I— 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— it’s actually even odd. Everybody accuses Lukashenko, but the pilot hasn’t been asked. You know, I cannot but recall another similar situation where the plane of the president of Bolivia was for— was forced to land in Vienna the order of the U.S. 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?

Look, let us speak the same language and— let us use the same concepts. If, well, Lukashenko is a gangster, how about the situation with the Bolivian— president? Was it good? In Bolivia, they viewed it as humiliation of the whole country. But— everybody kept mum not to aggravate the situation. Nobody is recalling that. By the way, this is not the only situation—

KEIR SIMMONS: You’re— you’re— you’re recalling it.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: This is not the—

KEIR SIMMONS: You’re— you’re—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —only situation of this kind.

KEIR SIMMONS: With respect, you’re—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: If it’s him, you gave him an example to follow.

KEIR SIMMONS: —recalling it. But (THROAT CLEARING) is a completely different example, Mr. President. We are talking about (LAUGH) a commercial flight. Shouldn’t people be able to take a commercial flight across Europe without fear of being shot down like in the case of (THROAT CLEARING) MH-17 or forced down so that a dictator can arrest a journalist?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes. Look, I will tell you one more time. What President Lukashenko told me, I don’t have any reason not to believe him. For the third time, I’m telling you: Ask the pilot. Why don’t you ask the pilot: Was he—

KEIR SIMMONS: But you—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —being scared? Was he being threatened? Was he being forced? The fact that information appeared that there was a bomb in— on the plane, that individuals, people who had nothing to do— who were passengers who had nothing to do with politics or any kind of domestic conflicts that— they could perceive it negatively— could be worried about it, of course that’s a bad thing.

There is nothing good about this. And obviously we condemn everything that has— to do with— this, and international terrorism, and the use of— aircraft. Of course, we are against this. And— you’ve told me that the landing of the aircraft of the president of Bolivia is a completely different matter.

Yes, it is different except that it is ten times worse than what was done, if anything was done in Belarus. But you just won’t acknowledge it. You are— ignoring it, and you want millions of people around the world to either not notice it or forget about it tomorrow. You won’t get away with it. It won’t happen.

KEIR SIMMONS: In the case of neighboring Ukraine— earlier this year, the European Union said you had more than 100,000— troops (THROAT CLEARING) on the Ukrainian border. Was that an attempt to get Washington’s attention?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, first, Ukraine itself constantly and I think is still doing that— kept bringing personnel and military equipment to the— conflict area in the southeast of Ukraine, Donbas. That’s one. Two is that we conducted— exercises in our territory and not just in the south of the Russian Federation but also in the far east and in the north, in the Arctic.

Simultaneously, military exercises were being held in different parts of the Russian Federation. At the very t— at the same very time, the U.S. was conducting— military exercises in Alaska. Do you know anything about it? Wahrscheinlich nicht. But I’ll tell you that I do know.

And that is in direct proximity to our borders. But that’s in your territory, on your land. We didn’t even pay attention to it. What is happening now? 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: Many of those—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why are you worried then?

KEIR SIMMONS: But many of those exercises are a resp— are a response to your actions— Mr. President. Do you worry that your opposition to NATO has actually strengthened it? For six years, NATO has spent more on defense.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Some— some defense. Some defense. During the USSR era, Gorbachev, who is still— thank God, with us— got a promise— a verbal promise— that— there would be no NATO expansion to the east. Where is that—

KEIR SIMMONS: Where is that—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —promise? Two ways of expansion.

KEIR SIMMONS: Where is that written down? Where is that promise written down?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Right, right, right. Right, right. Gut gemacht. Gut gemacht. Correct. You’ve got a point. Nyah nyah nyah, got you good. Well, congratulations. Of course, everything should be sealed and written on paper. But what was the point of expanding NATO to the east and bringing this infrastructure to our borders, and all of this before saying that we are the ones who have been acting aggressively?

Why? On what basis? Did Russia after the USSR collapsed present any threat to the U.S. or European countries? We voluntarily withdrew our troops from Eastern Europe. Leaving them just on empty land. Our— people there— military personnel for decades lived there in what was not normal conditions, including their children.

We went to tremendous expenses. And what did we get in response? We got in response infrastructure next to our borders. And now, you are saying that we are threatening to somebody. We’re conducting war games on a regular basis, including sometimes surprise military exercises. Why should it worry the NATO partners? I just don’t understand that.

KEIR SIMMONS: Will you commit now not to send any further Russian troops into Ukrainian sovereign territory?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: Moving on— the Biden administration has said that in your— at your summit they will bring up— the case of two U.S. prisoners in Russia— Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed. They are two former— Marines. Trevor Reed— is— suffering from— COVID in prison. Why don’t you release them ahead of the summit? Wouldn’t that show goodwill?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I know that we have— certain U.S. citizens who are in prison, have been convicted, found guilty. But if— one considers the number of— Russian Federation citizens who are in U.S. prisons, then these numbers don’t even compare. they cannot be compared. The United States has— made a habit in the last few years—

KEIR SIMMONS: Okay, so—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —of catching Russian Federation citizens in third countries—

KEIR SIMMONS: I just— there’s a limited amount of time, Mr. President—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —and— take them to—

KEIR SIMMONS: Unless we can have more time—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —back to the U.S. in violation of all international legal norms and put them in prison—

KEIR SIMMONS: I’d be very happy to have— to keep going for another 30 minutes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I determine the time here, so don’t worry about time. Your guy— the— Marine— he’s just a drunk and— a troublemaker. As they say here— he got himself— shitfaced and— started a fight. Among other things, he— he hit a cop. It’s— it’s nothing. It’s just a common crime. There is nothing to it.

As far as possible negotiations on the subject, sure— it can be talked about. Obviously we’ll raise the matter of— our citizens who are in prison in the U.S. . Yes, it can be a specific conversation. Sure. We’re h— happy to do it— although it doesn’t seem that the U.S. administration— has— raised that matter. But we’re prepared to do that.

Our pilot Yaroshenko has been in prison in the U.S. for a good n— I don’t know how many years, 15, maybe 20 years. And— there also— the problem seems to be a common crime. We— could and should talk about it. We— we haven’t been talking about this, but we could. If the U.S. side is prepared to discuss it, so are we.

KEIR SIMMONS: So his family will find that incredibly distressing to hear you talk about him that way. It does sound though as if you would consider some kind of a prisoner swap.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There is nothing— there’s nothing h— nothing offensive about it. 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?

KEIR SIMMONS: And on the prisoner swap question, is that something that you would consider? Are you looking to negotiate? You’re meeting with the president.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, of course. Naturally. Even better would be a discussion of the possibility of— entering into an agreement on extradition of individuals who are in prison. This is a standard international practice. We have such agreements (THROAT CLEARING) with several countries. We’re prepared to enter into such an agreement with the United States.

KEIR SIMMONS: Just to be clear so we hear it from you, which Russian prisoners in the U.S. would you be hoping to bring back to Russia by name?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, we have a whole list. I just mentioned— a pilot, a pilot named Yaroshenko who was taken to the U.S. from a— third country and was given— a lengthy sentence. He has major— health issues, but the prison administration is not paying attention to this.

You have— mentioned that— that your citizen has— coronavirus, but— nobody’s paying attention to the health issues of our citizen. We’re prepared to discuss these issues. Moreover, it makes sense, as you correctly said, and I completely agree with you, there are matters of humanitarian nature. And— why not discuss them as long as they pertain to the health and life of— specific individuals and— of their families? Naturally. Sure thing.

KEIR SIMMONS: Just quickly before I move on, on the subject of prisons, again with Alexei Navalny, will you commit that you will personally ensure (THROAT CLEARING) that Alexei Navalny will leave prison alive?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look— such decisions in this country are not made by the president. They’re made by the court whether or not to set somebody free. As far as the health, all individuals who are in prison, that is something that the administration of the specific prison or penitentiary establishment is responsible for.

And- there are medical facilities — in— penitentiaries— that are perhaps not in the best condition. And— they are the ones whose responsibility it is. And I hope that they do it properly. But to be honest, I have not visited such places for a long time.

I visited one in Saint Petersburg some time ago and— that was a very grave impression that was made on me by the medical facilities in a prison. But since then, I hope, some things have been done— to improve the situation. And— I proceed from the premise that the person that you have mentioned, the same kind of measures will— apply to that person, not in any way worse than to anybody else who happens to be in prison.

KEIR SIMMONS: His name is Alexei Navalny. People will note that you weren’t prepared to say—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Oh, I don’t— I c— I don’t care.

KEIR SIMMONS: —that he would leave prison alive.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: 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.

He will not be treated any worse than anybody else. Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment. It would be wrong Everybody should be in an equal situation. This is called the most favored nation treatment. Not worse than anybody else. And the person that you have mentioned, that applies to him as well.

KEIR SIMMONS: Appreciate the extra time, Mr. President. The team has been in quarantine for almost two weeks, so this interview is very important to us. I want to ask you about China. China is working on its fourth aircraft carrier. It has two. Russia has one, and it’s not in— in service at the moment. China refused to take part in arms control talks last year. You complain so much about NATO to your west. Why do you never complain about China’s militarization to your east?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: The first thing I want to say is that over the last few years, the last few decades, we have developed a strategic partnership relationship— between Russia and China that previously had not been achieved in the history of our nations, a high level of— trust and cooperation in all areas: in politics, in the economy, in the area of technology, in the area of military and technical cooperation. 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: China hasn’t b—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Don’t you know anything about this? That’s— that’s number one. Number two is that China is a huge, powerful country, 1.5 billion. In terms purchasing— power— parity, the Chinese economy has exceeded that of the United States. And in terms of trade for the previous year, last year, China has— China has tied Europe for the first place, whereas the U.S. has dropped to the second position. Do you know about this?

China has been developing. And— I understand that what’s beginning is— a certain kind of— confrontation with China. Everybody understands it. We can see it. Why hide from and be scared of— these issues? However, we’re not alarmed by it, including, among other things, by the fact that our defense sufficiency, which is how we describe it, is at a very high level, including because of this. But the most important thing is the nature and level of our relationship with China. You said China will have four aircraft carriers. How many does the United States have?

KEIR SIMMONS: A lot more.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: There you go. That’s my point. Why would we worry about the Chinese aircraft carriers? On top of everything else, we have a hugely vast border with China, but it’s a land border. It’s a land border. What? Do you think the Chinese— aircraft carriers will cross our land border? This is just— a meaningless— conversation—

(OVERTALK)

KEIR SIMMONS: But you— you also have a Pacific coast.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are right that there will be four of them. It is correct that there will be four of them. Right. Coast? Well, the coast is huge. But the— the bulk of the border between us and China is a land border. And, yes— you’re right that there will be four of them because one needs to be in maintenance, one needs to be on combat duty, one needs to be in repairs. There is nothing excessive here for China.

That is why what you said, that China won’t engage in negotiations— arms control— it refuses to negotiate reductions in nuclear offensive weapons. You should ask the Chinese about it, whether it’s good or bad. It’s— for them to decide. But their arguments are simple and understandable.

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.

KEIR SIMMONS: What do you think of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, (THROAT CLEARING) I have met— certain— Uyghurs. It’s also— it— it’s always possible to find individuals who criticize the central authorities. I have met Uyghurs on my trips to China, and I assure you at the very least what I heard with my own ears, that on the whole they welcome the policies of the Chinese authorities in this area. They believe that China has done a great deal for people who live in this part of the country from the perspective of the economy, raising the cultural level, and so on and so forth. So why should I offer assessments—

KEIR SIMMONS: You— you— you know that—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —looking at the situation—

KEIR SIMMONS: You know that—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —from— from— from— from a s— from outside—

KEIR SIMMONS: You know— you know there are many— Uyghurs who do not say that and that America has accused China of genocide. The secretary of state has accused China of genocide over the Uyghurs. There is the accusation of a million— Uyghurs in so-called concentration camps. Is that your message to the Muslim communities in the former Soviet Union? You don’t think anything wrong is happening there?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: As far as the Muslim community in Russia, I need to give a message to it through policies of the Russian authorities vis-à-vis Muslims in the Russian Federation. That is how I need to give my message to the Muslim community in the Russian Federation. We’re an observer in the Organization of Islamic Conference.

About 10% of our population, probably a little more, are Muslims. They are citizens of the Russian Federation who do not have any other fatherland. They’re making a colossal contribution to the development of our country. And that— pertains to both— clerics and— ordinary citizens.

Why should I speak to and build a relationship with this part of— our population by reference to the situation in China without understanding thoroughly what is happening there? I think that— you’re better off asking about all these problems the foreign minister of the Chinese— People’s Republic or the— U.S. State Department.

KEIR SIMMONS: It’s just a question of whether you are prepared to criticize China. China, for example, abstained on Crimea at the Security Council. China’s biggest banks have not contravened American sanctions against Russia. Do you think you get 100% support from China?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, we are neighboring countries. One does not choose one’s neighbors. We are pleased with the level, as I said, – unprecedentedly high level of our relationship as it has evolved over the last few decades, and we cherish it, just like our Chinese friends cherish it, which we can see. Why are you trying to drag us into some kind of matters that you evaluate as you see it fit for building your relationship— with China? I— I will tell you completely— can I— can I speak—

KEIR SIMMONS: Please. Yes.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —can I be completely honest? 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.

KEIR SIMMONS: You understand, of course, I— I’m just trying to question you about Russia’s position in relation to China and the United States. Let me ask you in— yeah, let me ask you in a different way. Are you splitting off from the U.S. space program and moving forward with China?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No, why? We are prepared to work with the U.S. in space. And— I think recently the head of NASA said that he could not imagine development of space programs without its partnership with Russia. We welcome this statement.

KEIR SIMMONS: Can— can—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: And we value—

KEIR SIMMONS: —I just— I just explain? Because the— the head of the Russia space agency h— has threatened— leaving the international space program in 2025— and specifically talked about sanctions— in relation to that threat.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: 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.

We— have been working and will continue to work with China, which applies to all kinds of programs, including— exploring deep space. And— I think there is nothing but —positive information here. I— frankly, I don’t see any ex— any— contradictions here. I don’t think any mutual— exclusivity here.

KEIR SIMMONS: Let— let me— let me ask you— one more way just to understand the relationship between China, Russia, and the— America. If the People’s Liberation Army made a move on Taiwan— how would Russia respond to that?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What? Are you aware of China’s plans to militarily solve the Taiwan problem? I don’t know anything about it. As we frequently— say— politics do not require the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is inappropriate in politics. There is no “could be” and “would be” in politics.

I cannot comment on anything that— is not a current reality of the modern world. Please bear with me. Don’t be angry with me. But I think this is— this is a question about nothing. This it not happening. Has China stated that it intends to solve the Taiwan problem militarily? It hasn’t happened.

For many years, China has been developing its relationship with Taiwan. There are different assessments. China has its own assessment. The U.S. has a different assessment. Taiwan may have its different assessment of the situation. But fortunately, hasn’t come to— a military clash.

KEIR SIMMONS: I’m being told to wrap up. But if I could just— ask you a couple more questions. Our own And—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Sure, please. Go ahead—

KEIR SIMMONS: Our own— our own Andrea Mitchell— saw just this month— the last border crossing into Syria— where supplies literally keep people alive. You’re threatening to close that crossing in July— at the Security Council. Why would you do that, knowing that it will cause the death of refugees?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look— unfortunately there are a great deal of tragedies there already. And— all our actions in their totality need to be geared at stabilizing the situation and bringing it into a normal course. And with support of Russia, Syria has been able— Syria— the Syrian authorities have been able to bring back under their control over 90% of the Syrian territory.

What needs to be set up now is just humanitarian assistance to people, irrespective of any kind of political context. But our partners in the West, in the West in general, both the U.S. and Europeans— have been saying that they’re not going to give help to Assad.

What does Assad have to do with it? Help out people who need that assistance. Just the most basic things. They won’t even lift restrictions on supplies of— medications and medical equipment even in the context of— the corona— virus infection. But that is just inhumane.

And this kind of cruel attitude to people to people cannot be explained in any way. As far as the crossing— border crossings. There is the Idlib area where— combatants are still robbing people, killing people, raping people. There is— nothing’s happening. There is the— Al-Tanf Zone, which by the way is controlled by U.S. military.

Recently there we caught a group of— gangsters, bandits who came— who had come from there. And they directly said that they had— specific goals as far as— Russian military facilities. As far as border crossings, our position is such that assistance needs to be given just as it should be done in the entire world, as it is provided for in the provisions of international humanitarian law.

Assistance should be given through the central government. It shouldn’t be discriminated against. And 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 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 Assad because a different mode of behavior would be undermining the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic. And that’s all. As far as the Idlib zone, the Turkish troops there effectively control the border between Turkey and Syria and convoys cross the border— without any restrictions on their numbers in both directions.

KEIR SIMMONS: Mr. President, you extended the constitution so that you could be president of— of Russia until 2036. Do you worry that the longer you are in power and without any sign of someone to replace you, the more instability there may be when you finally do choose to leave office?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: What will collapse overnight? If we look at the situation in which Russia was in the year 2000 where it was balancing on the brink of preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the number of— individuals below the poverty line was colossal. It was catastrophic.

The GDP level had dropped below anything that’s acceptable. Our FX and gold reserves were $12 billion, whereas our— foreign debt was $120 billion if we—count it in dollars. Now, there are many other problems. The situation is completely different.

Of course, somebody will come and replace me at some point. Is all of this going to collapse? We’ve been fighting international terrorism. We have nipped it in the bud. Is it supposed to come back to life? I do not think so. Another matter is that on the political scene, different people can emerge with different points of view. Groß. Sehr gut. 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—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (IN PROGRESS) —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.

KEIR SIMMONS: And would you look from that person for some kind of protection the same way that you offered to Boris Yeltsin when you took over?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am not even thinking about that. These are third-tier issues. The most important thing— the single most important thing is the fate of the country and the fate of its people.

KEIR SIMMONS: Very good. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. President. We’ve gone over, and I really appreciate it. It was a really interesting conversation, so thank you.

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