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President Biden on Monday stood by his comments over the weekend that Russia's Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power" as Ukraine President Zelensky said he was open to discussing neutrality for his nation in exchange for a ceasefire. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote talked with President Vladimir Putin's chief spokesman and deputy chief of staff Dmitry Peskov to get a view inside the Kremlin.
We turn now to the view from inside the Kremlin and an interview with President Vladimir Putin's chief spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. He's also the deputy chief of staff to Putin.
Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who was just reporting in Russia for us for the last several weeks, spoke with Peskov this morning.
Dmitry Peskov, thank you very much for joining us.
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin Press Secretary:
Thank you. It's my pleasure.
Over the weekend, we heard President Biden call President Putin a butcher and say that it is impossible for him to remain in power.
President Biden then said that he was not advocating for regime change. And yet you have said that the Kremlin still finds these comments alarming. Why?
Well, it is quite alarming.
First of all, it's — first of all, it is personal insult. And one can hardly imagine a place for personal insult in rhetorics of a political leader, and especially a political leader of the greatest country in the world, of the United States.
So, we're really sorry about that. And his statement involves whether Putin should not or should be in power in Russia. Of course, it is completely unacceptable. It is not for the United States' president to decide who is going to be and who is the president of the Russian Federation. It is people of Russia who are deciding during the election.
I want to ask you about nuclear weapons and clear some things up.
There's still quite a bit of confusion about Russia's position. We heard yet another official over the weekend, this time former President Dmitry Medvedev, say that Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons if it faces an existential threat, even if the other side has not employed nuclear weapons.
So could you please clarify for us what exactly would amount to an existential threat to Russia? For example, if you were unable to achieve your objectives in Ukraine, even though there is no one fighting in Russia, there's no strikes on Russia, could that be perceived as an existential threat?
Well, first of all, we have no doubt that all the objectives of our special military operation in Ukraine will be completed. We have no doubt about that.
But any outcome of the operation, of course, is not a reason for usage of a nuclear weapon. We have a security concept that very clearly states that only when there is a threat for existence of the state in our country, we can use and we will actually use nuclear weapons to eliminate the threat or the existence of our country.
Let's keep all this — well, let's keep these two things separate, I mean, existence of the state and special military operation in Ukraine. They have nothing to do with each other.
But, at the same time, if you remember the statement of the president when he ordered the operation on the 24th of February, there was a part of his statement warning different states not to interfere in the affairs between Ukraine and Russia during this operation.
He was very strict in his warning, and he was quite tough on that. And I think that everyone understands what he meant.
Well, he meant that he would use nuclear weapons? He was suggesting he would use nuclear weapons if a third party got involved in the conflict?
No, I don't think so. I don't think so.
But he was quite bold in saying that, do not interfere. If you do that, we will have all the possibilities to prevent that and to punish all those who are going to interfere.
Look, Mr. Peskov, if you stick to your — the dictionary definition of existential threat that we were discussing, clearly, nothing that is taking place or that is even really, quite frankly, imaginable that could take place could reach that bar of threatening the existence of the Russian state.
So, why not just clear this up right now? Why can't you, on behalf of Russia, rule out the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict, right here?
No one is thinking about using, about — even about idea of using a nuclear weapon.
President Biden also this weekend warned President Putin to not even, as he put it — quote — "even think about going on one single inch of NATO territory" — close quote.
Can you imagine a situation where Russia would feel it necessary to bomb or send forces into a NATO country during this conflict?
Well, if it is not a reciprocal act, so if they don't make us do that, we cannot think about that. And we do not want to think about that.
The U.S. and other nations, as you are aware, say Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine. They say your forces seem to be deliberately targeting civilians in your operations there.
The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation. And the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court says that Russia has not responded to his request for contributions.
If you are not doing anything wrong in Ukraine, why not cooperate with the ICC?
We do not accept the jurisdiction of ICC. We did not — we did not acknowledge it before, and we do not accept it right now. And we are not going to accept it further.
So, about the civilian targets, actually, it is a very important question. You have to know that, from the very beginning of these special operations, Russian military had a very strict order from the chief commander not to aim at civilian targets. And they are not doing that.
They are not shelling houses. They are not shelling apartments. They are not shelling civil objects. They are only shelling and they're aiming of military infrastructure, in the context of one of the main goals of the operation, demilitarization of Ukraine.
Then who is ruining the infrastructure, the civil infrastructure of Mariupol, for example? Those Nazi battalions inside Mariupol, they're simply killing those who would like to escape from the city. And these Nazi battalions, they are using the apartments as a shelter for their guns, for their armaments, for their tanks, for their snipers. That is causing the reciprocal fire.
So, it is not Russian military who are doing that.
Well, Dmitry Sergeyevich, I would say, in all fairness, everyone outside of Russia has been watching hundreds and hundreds of hours of footage that has come out of the country showing widespread targeting of civilian infrastructure, apartment buildings, theaters, hospitals.
I want to ask you briefly about sanctions and specifically energy supply. Western — European countries right now get a lot of their gas, as you are well aware, from Russia. They currently play dollars and euros for that gas. Vladimir Putin has said he wants them to pay in rubles.
So it looks like we have a stalemate here. Will Russia turn off the tap? Will it cut off its gas exports to Europe if those countries refuse to pay for that gas in rubles?
I don't know what is going to happen when they reject this possibility.
So, as soon as we have the final decision, we will look what can be done. But, definitely, we are not going to make a charity out of it and to send gas free of charge to Western Europe.
It's kind of a binary thing, right?
It sounds like President Putin is insisting he gets paid in rubles. They're insisting they will not pay in rubles.
So, my question simply is, are you going to turn off the gas?
Well, it depends. No payment, no gas.
How concerned are you, Mr. Peskov, that some of your best clients, your best customers for European gas, Germany, a number of European countries, are now turning their backs on Russia and Russian gas?
Doesn't that give you a pause about the future of Russia's economy?
Well, this is, of course — this is what — we wouldn't want to see it in our reality.
But we have to adapt ourselves to meet conditions. And, unfortunately, those conditions, they are quite unfriendly. And they are enemy, enemy-like for us. We entered the phase, the phase of a total war. And we in Russia, we will feel ourselves amongst war, because Western European countries, United States, Canada, Australia, they actually — they actually — they are leading war against us in trade, in economy, in seizing our properties, in seizing our funds, in blocking our financial relations.
And we have to adapt ourselves to new reality. You have to understand Russia. You have to understand Russia. What was the reason of studying the operation?
For a couple of decades, we were telling the collective West that we are afraid of your NATO's moving eastwards. We too are afraid of NATO getting closer to our borders with its military infrastructure. Please take care of that. Don't push us into the corner. No.
Now we said, listen, guys, we are not happy with this coup in Ukraine. And you have guarantees by Poland, by France and by Germany. You would probably remember the document with the signatures of the relevant foreign ministers. No reaction.
Then, we said, listen, guys, we're not happy with the possibility of Ukraine's getting into NATO, because it will endanger us additionally, and it will ruin the balance of mutual deterrence in Europe. No reaction.
Then we said, listen, guys, we want equal relationship. We want to take into account each other's concerns. If you don't into account our concerns, then we will be a little bit nervous. No reaction completely.
There are so many more NATO forces now closer to Russia than they ever were as a result of this conflict.
Do you feel like, in your efforts to address your concerns, you have made the situation worse?
Well, the situation is quite concerning. You're right. You're right.
But we're wise enough to understand that, previously, before, prior to the operation, NATO was doing the same, but with a smile on its face and gradually. We're deeply convinced that NATO machine is not a machine of cooperation and is not a machine of security. It's a machine of confrontation.
Dmitry Peskov, thank you very much for your time.
Thank you very much for your invitation.
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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.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
Morgan Till is the Senior Producer for Foreign Affairs and Defense (Foreign Editor) at the PBS NewsHour, a position he has held since late 2015. He was for many years the lead foreign affairs producer for the program, traveling frequently to report on war, revolution, natural disasters and overseas politics. During his seven years in that position he reported from – among other places - Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Haiti, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and widely throughout Europe.
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