Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a pointed verbal attack on the U.S. while speaking with special correspondent Ryan Chilcote in Moscow Wednesday. He called concerns about Russian meddling in the upcoming 2018 elections “insanity” and he criticized some Trump administration policies. Nick Schifrin talks with special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who spoke at length with Putin.
This morning in Moscow, Russia's President Vladimir Putin presided over a forum organized to discuss global energy issues. But he had much more to say on a variety of topics.
Nick Schifrin has that.
Judy, Putin sat down with top energy industry CEOs and the Saudi oil minister as part of an annual conference.
He was questioned at length by "NewsHour" special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who lived in Russia for 20 years and moderated the panel.
Ryan joins me now from Moscow.
Ryan, thank you very much.
Set the scene for today. And one of the main things you talked about was a former Russian spy.
So, big conference, about 1,000 people in the room, many of whom waited for about an hour for President Putin to arrive and for the plenary session to begin. Obviously, it being an energy conference, the subject du jour was energy.
However, in Russia, sanctions is not a topic that you can ignore. They affect the energy sector. They affect the entire Russian economy. So I asked President Putin how he intends to deal with some more sanctions that are going to be imposed upon Russia as a result of Russia's alleged involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy by the name of Sergei Skripal.
In response to that question, President Putin chose to speak about the spy himself.
Vladimir Putin (through translator):
I see some of your colleagues are pushing this idea that Mr. Skripal is almost some kind of human rights activists. He's just a spy, a traitor of the motherland. Get it? There's such a thing as a traitor of the motherland. He's one of them.
Imagine if you had someone who betrayed your country. What would you think about them? What would anyone sitting in this room think if we were talking about someone from their own country? He's just a scumbag. And that's all. And they have just initiated this whole information campaign around this issue.
And he didn't stop there, Ryan, did he? He also proclaimed Russia's innocence.
And keep in mind, Nick, that this was no simple attack on the spy. A chemical agent was used. This was done in the United Kingdom. And there were other people that were affected.
So, I asked President Putin about that.
Espionage aside, I think there are two other issues. One is the use of chemical weapons. And let's not forget that, in addition to the Skripal family being affected in that attack, there was also a homeless person who was killed when they came in contact with nerve agent Novichok.
Yes, I sometimes look at everything that's happening around this matter and am simply amazed. Some guy showed up and started poisoning homeless people? What kind of nonsense is that? What, are they street cleaners?
So, Nick, this was a really sloppy affair, right, that you had bystanders that were hurt in the attack.
And that reference there to, what, were they street cleaners, is because a homeless woman who died as a result of this attack actually picked up a bottle of perfume that the nerve agent, British authorities tell us, had been placed on and used it.
So, President Putin here is effectively saying, what, well, if we were behind this, would we have been that unprofessional? Of course not. Russian intelligence agents are very professional. This is sloppy stuff. It's absurd to think that such an unprofessional act would have been carried out by Russian agents.
You also asked him about Russia meddling in U.S. elections, not only, of course, what Russia is accused by the U.S. intelligence agencies of doing in 2016, but also 2018 and what intelligence agencies say Russia is still doing this year.
Let's take a listen to his answer on that.
I would like to see the insanity end concerning Russia's intervention in some U.S. election and for the American political elites to calm down and finally work things out among themselves, so that, like we say in oil markets, they reach some kind of equilibrium and balance of common sense and shared national interests.
And I would like that, in the process of their own internal fighting, they don't pollute Russian-American relations and negatively affect the rest of the world.
So, Ryan, that's kind of a denial that Russia isn't involved in 2018, but is Putin expressing a frustration that he and a lot of Russians have that they simply haven't gotten the results of improved relations that President Trump promised back in 2016?
Yes, that's right.
And if you think about it, going back to Helsinki, when President Putin met with President Trump, President Putin told the world that he actually supported President Trump — he wanted President Trump to win, I should say, in the election because President Trump promised better relations with the United States.
So you kind of wonder, well, did he back the wrong horse? Because, in a way, as a result of President Trump being so compromised by this investigation, the relationship with Russia, the relationship with Russian and the United States is, in many ways, perhaps much worse than it would have been had President Trump not actually came into power.
But, you know, when you ask President Putin about that, he doesn't take the bait, if you will. He doesn't — he's not going to throw President Trump under the bus.
As far as President Trump is concerned, this is a Democratic Party-inspired conspiracy, they're just angry at President Trump for winning the election. He thinks President Trump won the election fair and square. And, by the way, he thinks that the Democrats have it out for him and Russia as well.
So he didn't give any — make any suggestion really that, because things aren't, you know, sort of coming — turning out as he was hoping in terms of Russian-American relations, he made it clear he wasn't going to blame Donald Trump himself for that.
But he did have some criticism of President Trump, and specifically of a statement President Trump made last week.
So, first, let's listen to that. This is a statement, President Trump speaking at the U.N. General Assembly, referring to leading oil-producing countries of OPEC, which is led by Saudi Arabia.
President Donald Trump:
We defend many of these nations for nothing. And then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices. Not good.
We want them to stop raising prices. We want them to start lowering prices. And they must contribute substantially to military protection from now on.
So Trump is blaming oil producers for high prices. How did Putin respond to that?
Well, Putin blamed President Trump and the Trump administration's imposition of sanctions that come into effect on November on Iran, which are taking a lot of Iranian oil off the market, so less supply of oil, higher price.
He's blaming the Trump administration. In fact, he said that, if I was able to speak with Trump about this matter, I would tell him, Donald, if you're looking for someone to blame for higher oil prices, higher prices at the pump, then just look in the mirror.
Let's be frank. These oil prices are at least partially the result of the U.S. administration's own actions. I'm talking about the Iran sanctions, about the political problems in Venezuela. Just have a look at what's going on in Libya. The state has collapsed.
This is the result of irresponsible policies. It's best not to intervene in the market. It's best not to try and get some kind of competitive advantage with the help of political instruments and try to regulate prices, like in the Soviet Union. That doesn't lead to any good.
And some more criticism from Putin on President Trump was about bringing up European efforts to be sovereign and separate from the U.S., not only attempts to create a military alliance in Europe separate from NATO, but also economic independence from the U.S.
Let's take a listen to what Putin said about that.
Not very long ago, the president of France — I think he was speaking in New York — directly stated the need to bolster the European Union's economic sovereignty and diminish its dependence on the United States. Of course, that's correct.
Ryan, is this Putin just stoking transatlantic tension?
Well, certainly, it's, you could say, partially that.
He doesn't have to stoke them too much. Remember that is the United States that chose to withdraw from the Iran deal. The European countries, the E.U. didn't want that to happen. In fact, the E.U. is still trying to figure out a way to do business with Iran by kind of skirting the U.S. sanctions that are going to be imposed on Iran, by skirting the American financial system and the dollar.
Well, this is great news for Vladimir Putin, because Russia, facing U.S. sanctions, is trying to figure out a way to protect itself from them, because the way that those sanctions, the punishment gets transmitted on Russia is through the dollars, through Russia's exposure to the American financial system, American banks.
So he thinks it's fantastic that you have not just Russia, but an ally like the European Union, looking at the same kind of thing, a way to get away from American, if you will, financial hegemony.
Our American partners are committing a colossal strategic mistake, undermining the trust in the dollar as the universal and singular reserve currency today. They're undermining the faith in the dollar as the universal instrument. They're really cutting the branch on which they're sitting.
It's strange, even amazing. It's a typical mistake of any empire, when people think that nothing will have any effect. They think they're so sustainable, there can be no negative consequences, but those come sooner or later.
Look, Nick, here's my takeaway.
Obviously, this is President Putin talking his own book to a certain extent. That said, this was a very pointed attack at the United States that will get a listening in Europe.
And what's interesting is that he did it by delivering some criticism of President Trump, but mainly keeping it generic and general, and really talking about the whole of the United States.
I think President Trump — President Putin right now feels confident. He feels like he's in a position of strength, because a lot of the E.U. countries are wondering about the U.S. policies. And he's definitely not going to go down without a fight.
Ryan Chilcote, joining us from Moscow, thank you very much.
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Ryan Chilcote is a PBS NewsHour Special Correspondent. Based in London, Ryan has been reporting on foreign affairs and economics in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 1995.
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