Vladimir Putin sat down with NBC News for his first on-camera interview with a western news agency in more than three years.
Putin avoided public commentary during much of the Trump Administration, but less than six months into the Biden Administration he came out swinging at Biden and the US on a host of issues.
Putin spoke for nearly an hour and a half as Biden met with the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, from which Russia was suspended in 2014 after it annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
This interview was carefully orchestrated by Putin to follow along after Biden’s disastrous public appearances at the G7 and NATO Summits. Putin was not going to allow any demonstration of “unity” coming out of Biden’s first foreign trip to be the only press story ahead of his meetings with Biden.
For the most part defiant, and in some instances just plain trolling the Biden Administration, Putin showed the citizens of this country, using NBC News, why it is he’s going to wipe the floor with addle-minded Joe Biden as long as he remains in the White House.
“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Mr Putin said, referring to Ashli Babbitt, a California woman who died during the riot after being shot by a member of US Capitol Police, who was cleared of wrongdoing in her death.
“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,” said Mr Putin.
The US, he reasoned, was guilty of the same intolerance for political dissent as his government has been accused of harbouring.
Putting aside for the moment his reference to the death of Ashli Babbitt, his broader point regarding January 6 being a political protest that Democrats have demonized for political advantage is not inaccurate. Yes, some number of individuals — mixed in with the thousands there only to protest — came to the Capitol on January 6 prepared to undertake violent action if the opportunity presented itself. But the vast majority were there only to make their voices heard and demand action from their elected representatives. You can agree or disagree with whether what they were demanding was lawful, unlawful, constitutional, unconstitutional, or extra-constitutional — but they were there to make demands on their government as was their right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
But the Democrats and the press have wrongfully categorized the entirety of the protest activity on January 6 as part of an effort to subvert the newly elected government. The Biden DOJ has painted all in attendance with a broad brush in its public comments about January 6, rather than carefully distinguishing those who were present to commit violent crimes from those there to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Putin understands this and will continue to use it to his political advantage by blunting complaints from the Biden Administration about his actions both in Russia and surrounding countries.
More from Putin’s interview:
Putin said the U.S. allegations that Russian hackers or the government itself were behind cyberattacks in the U.S. were “farcical,” and he challenged NBC News, and by implication the U.S. government, to produce proof that Russians were involved.
“We have been accused of all kinds of things,” he said. “Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.”
Asked about Biden’s criticism that Russia had added to global instability, he accused the U.S. of doing the same in Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. And the Russians aren’t cracking down on internal dissent, he said, any more than the U.S. is doing with its laws against foreign agents.
No doubt the press and Democrats will seize upon his words of praise for Trump but once again Putin is merely trolling both. The context of his comments, and what he says about Biden makes it clear that Putin is happy to see Trump gone as Biden is someone Putin believes will be much easier to manipulate and/or ignore.
More than once, Biden has recounted how he told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul” during a Kremlin visit in 2011 when he was vice president.
“I do not remember this particular part of our conversations,” Putin said when he was asked about the characterization.
Asked what he thought of Biden, Putin said he was a professional and suggested that he could work with him.
“He has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics,” he said.
“Mr. Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual. Otherwise he would not have become U.S. president,” Putin said. “He is a colorful individual.”
But he also stressed the need for “predictability and stability” in Russia’s relationship with the U.S., adding, “This is something we haven’t seen in recent years.”
Keep in mind what I noted at the start — this is Putin’s first interview with a US news organization since 2018. He quit speaking in public during the Trump Administration because President Trump was not shy about responding bluntly and in public to things Putin said or did.
Now he’s taken the measure of the Biden Administration — and he’s happy for the change. He can “work with” Biden, and he’s free to speak out in public without fear of meaningful rebuke or repercussions from the feckless foreign policy team now in charge.
After all, he got Nordstream 2 approved and the Keystone XL pipeline shut down. Energy prices are high, and energy products are the No. 1 export from Russia to the world that keeps the Russian economy afloat.
Putin is going to say whatever he wants to say safe in the knowledge that Biden is unable to formulate or articulate anything other than a rehearsed response. There is no one else of any meaningful political stature in the Biden Administration — certainly not Kamala Harris — who can challenge him on the world stage. The only individual with that stature would be former President Obama.
But if Obama steps forward to engage Putin one-on-one, that only underscores the fact that Biden is unable to do so himself.
It has already been announced that Biden and Putin will not appear together before the press.
A more important question might be whether Biden appears before the press at all to discuss his talks with Putin.