Russian President Vladimir Putin — who TIME readers recently voted as the most influential person in the world — held his annual call-in/ town hall-style Q&A on Thursday, and as one might imagine, there were some memorable moments. Previous sessions included the following classic clips (via RT):
Putin on whether Alaska is “ice crimea” (play on “ice cream”): “What would you need Alaska for? It’s cold there, let’s not get overenthusiastic about it.”
Putin on when he would be willing to retire: “You won’t live to see it.”
Putin on John McCain’s suggestion that the Russian President will go the way of Muammar Gaddafi: “McCain sat in a pit in Vietnam for several years, anyone would go nuts after that.”
Putin on astronomy, the exact time table for the end of the world, and how, if he’s around then, he will most assuredly not be afraid:
Clearly these are tough acts to follow and so, with the bar set, Putin came into Thursday’s event prepared to one-up himself — he did not disappoint. As Bloomberg notes, the Russian President took 'the pot calling the kettle black' to the next level by likening the US to the post-war USSR. Like the Soviet Union, Washington seeks to “impose” its will, Putin said, echoing comments made by his security council last month in a critique of US foreign policy. The US, he continued, wants “vassals” and not “allies.” Putin also employed the tried and true “express willingness to negotiate then make not-so-veiled nuclear threat” strategy before reminding listeners that Stalin was not Hitler. Here’s more:
- U.S. “doesn’t need allies, they need vassals”
- Nothing good came of U.S.S.R.’s attempts to impose will, model on other countries; U.S. also won’t succeed in forcing its position on world, U.S. shouldn’t be only power
- Putin says it wasn’t Russia that ruined relations w/ U.S. its allies
- If U.S., allies was to rebuild ties, they must respect Russia, its interests
- Russia wants cooperation, willing to work w/ those who want to cooperate with Russia
- Anti-Russia sanctions aren’t very effective
- Putin says Russia’s nuclear power is nearly equal to U.S.
- Russia bolstering defense to protect itself, not planning to go to war w/ anyone
- Putin says confrontation isn’t reason for his high public support
- Russia will continue to fight radical nationalism, nationalism is threat to Russia’s unity
- Putin says Stalinism, Nazi regimes shouldn’t be compared as Josef Stalin didn’t try to exterminate entire ethnic groups
Other highlights include the following, via The Guardian:
Iran: Putin insisted lifting a five-year embargo on the delivery of air defence missiles to Iran did not undermine international sanctions since the Russian ban was voluntary. The US and Israel have objected to the move announced this week. Putin said he made the decision since Iran had shown “a desire to reach compromise”.
WW2 commemorations: European nations not coming to Moscow to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end had been put under pressure by Washington, Putin claimed.
Ukraine: The Russian president denied Russian military forces were in Ukraine and said Kiev was violating a peace accord by maintaining an economic blockade on eastern regions under the control of pro-Russian rebels.
Economy: Putin was optimistic in his answers, highlighting gains in agriculture and a low unemployment rate. He added that the rouble was getting back on its feet following a sharp devaluation last year, and estimated a full recovery to be “somewhere in the region of two years”.
Here’s the entire spectacle:
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces also invoked the cold war in claiming that Washington has adopted a 'to the winner go the spoils' approach to international politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This, the officials claim, is evident in the US approach to the conflict in Ukraine. Here's more, via Reuters:
Top Russian officials accused the United States on Thursday of seeking political and military dominance in the world and sought to put blame on the West for international security crises, including the conflict in east Ukraine.
Evoking Cold War-style rhetoric, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said a drive by the United States and its allies to bring Kiev closer to the West was a threat to Moscow and had forced it to react.
"The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction," he told an annual security conference in Moscow.
Echoing his comments, General Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told the meeting: "Considering themselves the winners of the Cold War, the United States decided to reshape the world to fit its needs.
"Aiming at complete dominance, Washington stopped taking into account the interests of other countries and respect international law."
And a bit more color from WSJ:
General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said missile defense systems slated for installation in Poland and Romania represented a threat and Russia had to prepare to respond.
“Nonnuclear powers where missile-defense installations are being installed have become the objects of priority response,” Gen. Gerasimov said, referring to Poland and Romania.
The comments came at a Moscow defense conference where a series of high-level Russian leaders repeatedly warned of the serious threats that the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization posed to modern Russia. Together, the speeches formed a fiery rebuke to the U.S. that comes as the conflict in Ukraine has brought the worst relations between Moscow and Washington since the days of the Cold War...
In the past, Western leaders have said NATO’s long-running project to build a missile defense shield in Europe aimed to deter an attack from Iran rather than from Russia. On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said such assertions were a lie.
“Today it is clear that the missile threat from Tehran that the U.S. and other countries of the alliance invented was a bluff,” Mr. Shoigu said...
Gen. Gerasimov also warned of Islamist extremism. He said al Qaeda had arisen from the Mujahideen that fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan with U.S. money and support and suggested history had begun to repeat itself.
“Not so long ago participants in ISIL also were ‘good’ fighters, widely paid off by the West as ‘fighters for democracy in Syria,’” Gen. Gerasimov said. “Now they’ve gotten out of control,” he added, saying they posed a threat to their “former employers.”
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As funny as it is to listen to the Russian President field random questions on subjects as diverse as cloning, astronomy, and annexing Alaska, and while there's certainly a degree to which the Kremlin employs a bit of sophistry in an effort to paint Russia as the tragic protagonist in a story about an evil hegemon bent on spreading Russophobia (so pretty much the exact same thing the US did during the cold war, only in reverse), the tension between Moscow and the West is palpable and with NATO now conducting its own snap drills in Eastern Europe and with the very same militants to which Gen. Gerasimov is referring just a few kilometers away from the palace of the Russian-backed Bashar al-Assad, we wonder if and when the war of words will turn into one of bullets.