MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says that early on in his tenure he floated the idea of Russia joining NATO.
In a series of interviews with American film director Oliver Stone, Putin said he inquired about Russia joining the alliance when then U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Moscow in 2000.
“During the meeting I said: ‘Let’s consider an option that Russia might join NATO,'” Putin recalled. “Clinton said ‘Why not?’ But the U.S. delegation got very nervous.”
Putin had said in an interview several months before Clinton’s June 2000 visit that he wasn’t opposed to Russia joining the alliance, but his comment to Stone was the first public indication of his raising the issue.
Stone conducted the interviews in 2015-17. They are to be shown on U.S. cable channel Showtime in four parts beginning Monday. The first two hour-long segments were made available to news media before the showing.
In the segments, Putin portrays Russia under his leadership as seeking to improve ties, but frustrated by Washington’s “imperialist mentality.”
Despite Putin’s onetime interest in joining NATO, in the interviews he criticized the alliance for expanding eastward to Russia’s borders.
Putin defended the country’s controversial law on banning dissemination to minors of “propaganda” legitimizing homosexuality, saying “the reasoning behind this law is to provide children with the opportunity to grow up without impacting their consciousness.” Although there is widespread animosity toward homosexuality in Russia and authorities regularly deny gay rights activists permission to rally, Putin said “our society is liberal-minded to a great extent.”
After Putin noted that there is no formal prohibition of gays in the military, Stone asked if Putin would take a shower on a submarine with a gay crewman.
“I prefer not to go to the shower with him. Why provoke him?” Putin said.
He also provided a rare bit of detail about his family, telling Stone that he had grandchildren. Little is known about his two daughters and Putin gave no additional clues, saying only that they were accomplished women.
“You’re a very lucky man,” Stone told him.
The segments also show Stone praising the film “Doctor Strangelove” as a formative insight into the Cold War, and he then watches it with Putin, who doesn’t appear impressed. Stone then presents him with the package for the DVD of the film, forgetting to include the disc itself, and Putin jests: “Typical American gift.”