Putin on Pussy Riot, Syria, and Assange in first TV interview since return to presidency
6.09.12 20:25 By Olga Kuzmenkova, edited by Karina Ayvazova
Vladimir Putin spoke of many urgent issues in his first big TV interview since returning to power in May 2012 Photo: Russia Today
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his first television interview since his inauguration in May 2012, choosing the state-run TV channel Russia Today which airs in English. British journalist Kevin Owen, who previously worked on BBC Wales and Sky News, was chosen to speak to Putin.
Owen started the conversation with the ongoing APEC summit in Vladivostok, in fact it was the formal reason for the interview.
Owen then switched to another international topic, the situation in Syria.
Putin made it clear that Russia is not going to change its position on Syria. He said that he thinks that "the current partners in negotiations should look again at their positions", mentioning previous failures.
He then recalled the U.S. operation in Afghanistan which he thinks was a failure. Putin linked the situation in Syria with Arab revolutions, saying that none of these countries reached stability after overthrowing authoritarian regimes. In conclusion, Putin said that the situation in Syria should be handled with participation of the international community and the first thing that should be done is stop importing arms into the conflict zone.
Talking about the future presidential election in the USA, Putin said he would cooperate with either a democratic or republican administration. He assessed his experience of working with Barack Obama as "positive" along with the "reset" in the relations between the two countries, however, he hinted that the conservative State Department did not allow Obama to make real changes in relations with Russia.
"This isn't just about president Obama. For all I know, his desire to work out a solution is quite sincere. ," Putin said recalling his recent meeting with Obama in the framework of G20 summit in Mexico. "I think that he is a sincere man and He sincerely wants to implement positive change. But can he do it? Will they let him do it? I mean that there is also the military lobby, and the Department of State, which is quite conservative," Putin said. He also added that Russia "did what it could" in the missile defence sphere, and that future dialogues depend on American partners who refuse to solve the problem."
The next block of questions Owen devoted to the sensitive issue of the Magnitskiy lists, which covered dozens of Russian officials who were accused by Magnitsky's work colleagues of being responsible for his death. Some of them are banned entry into the US and UK. Owen asked why there is a wide spread opinion about the investigation being not objective and that those guilty of the lawyer's death are not punished.
"You see… there are people who need an enemy, they are looking for an opponent to fight against. Do you know how many people die while in prison in those countries which have condemned Russia? The numbers are huge! Look at the U.S. that came up with the so-called Magnitsky list. As you know, there is no death penalty in Russia while the U.S. still keeps it on the books," Putin replied and suddenly added that he thinks that "only God can take life away."
A big part of the interview with Putin was devoted to the convicted members of the punk band Pussy Riot who were sentenced to two years in a penal colony for performing "a punk prayer" in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Putin decided to mention what the band's name means.
- Please translate the name of the band? – Putin asked.
- I do not know how to translate Pussy Riot into Russian, maybe you could help me? – Owen replied smiling.
- Can you or can you not translate the first word into Russia? Or maybe it sounds too obscene? Yes, I think you wouldn't do it because it sounds too obscene even in English?
-Actually I would translate it as "a cat", but I am getting your point here, Owen joked.
According to Putin, the performance of Pussy Riot in the cathedral was "mayhem" He added that he would not like to comment on the decision of the Russian court.
However, he decided to comment on the moral side of Pussy Riot's actions.
"First, in case you never heard of it, a couple of years ago one of the band's members put up three effigies in one of Moscow's big supermarkets, with a sign saying that Jews, gays and migrant workers should be driven out of Moscow. I think the authorities should have looked into their activities back then," Putin said.
Then Putin recalled the action which was performed by the art group "Voina" whose member is jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. "Voina" staged a protest action in Moscow's zoological museum called "F..k for the heir of the Bear" which was against the presidential elections in 2008 when Putin's close ally Dmitry Medvedev won.
"They staged an orgy in a public place. Of course, people are allowed to do whatever they want to do, as long as it's legal, but this kind of conduct in a public place should not go unnoticed by the authorities," Putin said.
"You know some fans of group sex say it's better than one-on-one because, like in any team, you don't need to hit the ball all the time," the president added.
Then Kevin Owen asked whether Putin thought that there has been a heavier stance on opposition since he came back to power.
"If we talk of what some call a clamp-down … We should clarify what we're talking about. If we understand it as a simple requirement that everyone, including the opposition, complies with Russian law, then this requirement will be consistently enforced," Putin said.
One of the last questions which Putin was asked concerned Julian Assange. Owen explained that apart from Assange, there are several people who Russia would like to talk to there.
"I used to tell my previous counterparts and friends in the British government – not those holding office at the moment – that Britain happens to be harboring certain individuals who have blood on their hands, having waged a real war on Russian territory and slaughtered people. I told them, "Just imagine what it would be like if Russia were to harbour militants from, say, the Irish Republican Army – not those negotiating and pursuing a compromise with the government these days
"There has been a cardinal change in the settings, the Soviet Union is history, and what we have today is a new Russia. How can we allow ourselves to be dominated by our old phobias and outdated perceptions of international relations and the kind of relations between our nations? Let them go at last," Putin added.
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