Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with NBC News
Here is the shortened transcript of the NBC News interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which took place in Moscow on June 11, 2021. The interviewer is Keir Simmons of NBC News
KEIR SIMMONS: Mr. President, it’s been a long time since you sat down with an American television network. I want to begin— with— some news from the U.S.— just today. In the U.S. it’s reported that Russia is preparing, perhaps within months, to supply Iran with an advanced satellite system, enabling Tehran to track military targets. Is that true? (Note from NBC: President Putin’s interpreter translates the underlined question from English into Russian as, “According to reports from the US, over the next few months, Russia is preparing new hacks of military facilities for the benefit of Iran’s nuclear program. Is that true?”)
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Would you mind repeating the question again. We are preparing to hack what kind of facilities?
KEIR SIMMONS: No. The report today is that Russia is preparing to give or to offer to Iran a satellite technology which will enable Iran to target military, to make military targets. (LAUGH) (Note from NBC: President Putin’s interpreter translates this question from English into Russian as the following, adding the underlined phrase, “There have been reports that Russia is planning to turn over satellite technology to Iran for tracking and striking military targets.”)
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No. We don’t have that kind of programs with Iran. No, it’s just nonsense all over again, yet again. We have cooperation plans with Iran, including military and technical cooperation. And all of this fits the framework of the decisions that were agreed upon in our program in regard to Iran’s nuclear program in the context of U.N. decisions together with our partners in the preparation of the JCPOA whereby some point sanctions, including in the area of military and technical cooperation, should be lifted from Iran. We have certain programs which concern conventional weapons, if it gets that far. However, we haven’t even gone to that stage yet.
KEIR SIMMONS: So presumably you’d agree that giving Iran satellite technology that might enable it to target U.S. servicemen and women in places like Iraq or to share that information with Hezbollah or the Houthi in Yemen so they could target Israel and Saudi Arabia, would be dangerous?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, why are we talking about problems that don’t exist? There is no subject for a discussion. Somebody has invented something, has made something up. Maybe this is just a bogus story so as to limit any kind of military and technical cooperation with Iran… I will say once again this is just some fake information that I have no knowledge about…
We believe that space should be free from any and all kinds of weapons located in near-Earth orbits. We don’t have this kind of plans or any plans, especially concerning the transfer of technology of the level that you have just described.
Relations with U.S.A. and President Biden
KEIR SIMMONS: So let’s move on to your summit with President Biden. The context for the summit is that he’s meeting with the G7, a group that you used to belong to with NATO, with European leaders. President Biden has defined his first trip to Europe as a quote, “about rallying the world’s democracies.” He views you as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. Is that true?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.
The fact that President Biden has been meeting up with his allies, there is nothing unusual about it. There’s nothing unusual about a G7 meeting. We know what G7 is. I have been there on numerous occasions. I know what the values are in that forum.
When people get together and discuss something, it’s always good. It’s better than not to get together and not to discuss. […] However, I’m inclined to think that despite all of these niceties, the United States as far as their relationship with Russia, will be promoting what they consider important and necessary for themselves, above all for themselves, in their economic and military interests. However, to hear what their allies have to say probably never hurts.
KEIR SIMMONS: So let’s talk about your meeting with President Biden, the summit that will happen after those meetings. President Biden asked you to meet with him. He didn’t make any preconditions. Were you surprised?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. We have a bilateral relationship that has deteriorated to what is the lowest point in recent years. However, there are matters that need a certain amount of comparing notes and identification and determination of mutual positions, so that matters that are of mutual interest can be dealt with in an efficient and effective way in the interests of both the United States and Russia.
So, there is nothing unusual about it. In fact, despite this seemingly harsh rhetoric we expected, those suggestions because the US domestic political agenda made it impossible for us to restore the relationship at an acceptable level this meeting should have taken place at some point.
So, President Biden launched this initiative. Prior to that, as you will know, he had supported the extension of the START treaty, which of course was bound to meet with support from our side. We believe that this is a treaty in the area of containment of strategic offensive weapons, has been worked through and thoroughly, and meets our interests, and meets the U.S. interests. So this offer could be expected.
KEIR SIMMONS: President Biden wants predictability and stability. Is that what you want?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, these are the most important things. This is the most important thing. This is the most important value, if you will, in international affairs.
KEIR SIMMONS: Sorry to interrupt you. But he would say that you have caused a lot of instability and unpredictability.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, he says one thing. I say another thing. But maybe at some point — in certain ways our rhetoric varies and is different. But if you ask my opinion now, I am telling you what it is. The most important value in international affairs is predictability and stability.
And I believe that on the part of the U.S. partners, this is something that we haven’t seen in recent years. What kind of stability and predictability could there be if we remember the 2011 events in Libya where the country was essentially taken apart, broken down?… There has been talk of a continued presence of troops in Afghanistan. And then all of a sudden, boom!, the troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan. What is this predictability and stability again?
Now the Middle East events. Is this predictability and stability, what all of this will lead to? Or in Syria? What is stable and predictable about this? I’ve asked my U.S. counterparts, “You want Assad to leave? Who will replace him? What will happen when somebody— he’s replaced with somebody?”
The answer is odd. The answer is, “I don’t know.” Well, if you don’t know what will happen next, why change what there is? It could be a second Libya or another Afghanistan. Do we want this? No. Let us — sit down together, talk, look for compromise solutions that are acceptable for all the parties. That is how stability is achieved. It cannot be achieved by imposing one particular point of view, the “correct” point of view, whereby all the other ones are incorrect. That’s not how stability is achieved.
KEIR SIMMONS: Let’s get to some other issues. I want to just talk a little bit more about your relationship with… President Biden. This will not be the Helsinki summit. President Biden is — is not President Trump. You once described President Trump as a bright person, talented. How would you describe President Biden?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well even now, I believe that former US president Mr. Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual, otherwise he would not have become US President. He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. And, but he didn’t come from the U.S. establishment.
He had not been part of big time politics before, and some like it some don’t like it but that is a fact. President Biden, of course, is radically different from Trump because President Biden is a career man. He has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics.
He has been doing it for a great deal of years and I have already said that and that is an obvious fact. Just think of the number of years he spent in the Senate, and how many years he was involved in the matters of international politics and disarmament, virtually at the expert level.
That’s a different kind of person, and it is my great hope that yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any knee-jerk reactions on behalf of the sitting US president that we will be able to comply with certain rules of engagement, certain rules of communications and will be able to find points of contact and common points.
KEIR SIMMONS: You mention cyber attacks and deny any involvement by Russia. But Mr. President, there is now a weight of evidence, a long list of alleged state-sponsored cyber attacks. Let me give you five. There’s a lot, but it makes a point. The U.S. intelligence community says Russia interfered with the 2016 Election.
Election security officials said Russia tried to interfere with the 2020 Election. Cybersecurity researchers said government hackers targeted COVID vaccine researchers, hacking for COVID vaccines. In April the Treasury Department said the SolarWinds attack was the world’s worst with targets including nine federal agencies. And just before your summit, Microsoft says it’s discovered another attack with targets including organizations that have criticized you— Mr. Putin. Mr. President, are you waging a cyber war against America?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Dear Keir, you have said that there is a weight of evidence of cyber attacks by Russia. And then you went on to list those— official U.S. agencies that have stated as much. Is that what you did?
KEIR SIMMONS: I’m giving you information about who said it so you can answer.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Right. Right. You are conveying information to me as to who said that. But where is evidence that this was indeed done? I will tell you that this person has said that, that person has said this. But where is the evidence? Where is the proof? With— when there is— when there are charges— without evidence, I can tell you, you can take your complaint to the International League of Sexual Reform.
This is a conversation that has no subject. Put something on the table so that we can look and respond. But there isn’t anything like that. The latest thing— one of the latest attacks as far as I know, was against the pipeline system in the U.S. Right, yes. So what?
[…] Just a moment. As far as I know, the shareholders of this company even made a decision to pay the ransom. They paid off the cyber gangsters. If you have listed an entire set of U.S. special services (powerful, global, respectable), after all they can find whoever the ransom was paid.
And once they do that, they will realize that Russia has nothing to do with it. Then, there’s the cyber attack against a meat processing plant. Next time they will say there was an attack against some Easter eggs. It’s becoming farcical, like an ongoing farcical thing, never-ending farcical thing. You said “plenty of evidence,” but you haven’t cited any proof. But again, this is an empty conversation, a pointless conversation. What exactly are we talking about? There’s no proof.
We here in the Russian Federation have— cyber crimes that have increased— many times over in the last few years. We’re trying to respond to it. We’re looking for cyber criminals. If we find them, we punish them.
We are willing to engage with international participants, including the United States. You are the ones who have refused to engage in joint work. What can we do? We cannot build— this work, we cannot structure this work unilaterally.
Really. If we wanted to do that, NATO said that it considers cyberspace an area of combat. And it prepares and even conducts exercises. What stops us from doing that? If you do that, we will do the same thing. But we don’t want that. just like we don’t want space militarized, in the same manner we don’t want cyberspace militarized. And we have suggested on many occasions, agreeing on mutual work in the cybersecurity area in this area. But your government refuses to.
KEIR SIMMONS: I saw your proposal from September. Isn’t what you’re proposing? That if you can come to an agreement over hacking and election interference, then you’ll call off the hacking and the election interference if America agrees not to comment on your elections and your political opponents?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What we count on is that nobody should interfere in domestic internal affairs of other countries, neither the U.S. in ours or we in the USA’s political processes or any other nations. All nations of the world should be given an opportunity to develop calmly
Even if there are crisis situations they have to be resolved by the people domestically, without any influence or interference from the outside. I don’t think that this call by the U.S. administr today’s administration is worth anything. It appears to me that the U.S. government will continue to interfere in political processes in other countries.
I don’t think that this process can be stopped, because it has gained a lot of momentum. However, as far as joint work in cyberspace for the prevention of some unacceptable actions on the part of cyber criminals that is definitely something that can be agreed upon. And it is our great hope that we will be able to establish this process with our U.S. partners.
KEIR SIMMONS: If you were in America, what would you fear might happen next? The lights being switched off the way they were in western Ukraine in 2015? […] What should Americans worry? What might happen next if there’s no agreement on cyber?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, this is just like space militarization. This is a very dangerous area. At some point, in order to achieve something in the nuclear area in terms of confrontation in the area of nuclear weapons, the USSR and the United States did agree to contain this particular arms race.
Cyberspace is a very sensitive area. As of today, a great deal of human endeavors rely upon digital technologies, including the functioning of government. And of course interference in those processes can cause a lot of damage and a lot of losses. And everybody understands that. And I am repeating for the third time: Let’s sit down together and agree on joint work on how to achieve security in this area. That is all.
Accusations keep coming, including up to— interference— involvement in a cyber attack against some kind of a meat processing plant. But our proposal to start negotiations in this area are being turned down. This is some kind of nonsense, but that’s exactly what’s been happening.
Once I repeat one more time. It is my hope that we will be able to start engaging in positive work in this area. In terms of what’s to be afraid of, why is it that we suggest agreeing on something? Because what people can be afraid of in America, are worried of in America, the very same thing can be a danger to us. The U.S. is a high-tech country. NATO has declared cyberspace an area of combat. That means they are planning something. They are preparing something. So obviously this cannot but worry us.
KEIR SIMMONS: Do you fear that American intelligence is deep inside Russian systems and has the ability to do you a lot of damage in cyber?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I’m not afraid, but I bear in mind that it is a possibility.
Human rights and Alexei Navalny
KEIR SIMMONS: Let me ask you about human rights, an issue that President Biden will rais. He’ll raise the issue of Alexei Navalny, targeted for assassination, now in a Russian jail… A Russian court has just outlawed organizations connected to Mr. Navalny. Literally every non-systematic opposition figure is facing criminal charges. In journalism Meduza and VTimes have been hit with “foreign agent” labels and face collapse. Mr. President, it’s as if dissent is simply not tolerated in Russia anymore.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: This, well, you are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently. You have mentioned the law on foreign agents, but that’s not something that we invented. That law was passed back in the 1930s in the United States. And that law is much harsher than ours, and it is directed and intended, among other things, at preventing interference in the domestic political affairs of the United States. […] The U.S. adopted this law. We passed this law very recently in order to protect our society against outside interference. In some of the states, a foreign observer comes to a polling station.
The prosecutor says, “Come a few feet closer, and you’ll go to jail.” Is that normal? Is that democracy in the modern world? But— that is an actual practice in some of the states. We don’t have anything like that. When I talk about these laws about noninterference or attempts at interference, what do I mean as applied to Russia?
Many entities of the so-called “civil society,” the reason I say “so-called civil society” is because many of those entities are funded from abroad. Specific relevant action programs are prepared. Their core members are trained abroad. And when our official authorities see that, in order to prevent this kind of interference in our domestic affairs, we make relevant decisions and adopt relevant laws.
And they are more lenient than yours. You have— we have a saying: “Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly.” It has nothing to do with you personally. But if somebody blames us for something, what I say is, “Why don’t you look at yourselves?” You will see yourselves in the mirror, not us. There is nothing unusual about it. As far as political activities and the political system, it is evolving. We have 44 registered parties. Well, 34 I think. And 32 are about to participate in various electoral processes… There is also non-systemic opposition. You have said that some people have been detained. Some people are in prison. Yes, that is all true. You mentioned certain names.
KEIR SIMMONS: Can I ask you a direct question? Did you order Alexei Navalny’s assassination?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Of course not. We don’t have this kind of habit of assassinating anybody. That’s one. Number two is I want to ask you: Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn’t go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands. 450 people have been detained. They’re facing jail time, between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn’t that persecution for political opinions? Some have been accused of plotting to topple to take over-government power. Some are accused of robbery. They didn’t go there to rob. The people who you have mentioned, yes, they were convicted for violating their status, having been previously convicted— given convent— given suspended sentences which were essentially warning to not violate the Russian laws.
And they completely ignored the requirements of the law. The court went on and passed and turned the conviction into real jail time. Thousands and thousands of people ignore requirements of the law, and they have nothing to do with political activities, in Russia every year and they go to jail. If somebody is actually using political activities as a shield to deal with their issues, including achieving their commercial goals, then it’s something that they have to be held responsible for.
KEIR SIMMONS: Let me give you some names. Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead. Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium. Sergei Magnitsky, allegedly beaten and died in prison. Boris Nemtsov, shot moments from the Kremlin, moments from here. Mikhail Lesin died of blunt trauma in Washington, D.C. Are all of these a coincidence, Mr. President? (LAUGH)
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, you know, I don’t want to come across as being rude, but this looks like some kind of indigestion, except that it’s verbal indigestion. You mentioned many individuals who indeed suffered and perished at different points in time for various reasons at the hand of different individuals.
You mentioned Lesin. Lesin used to work in my administration. I liked him very much. He died— he perished or died in the United States. I’m not sure if he perished or died. We should ask you how exactly he perished. I regret to this day that he is not with us. In my opinion, he’s a very decent person.
As far as the others, we found some of the criminals who committed those crimes. Some are in prison, and we are prepared to continue to work in this mode and along this avenue identifying everybody who violates the law and by their actions cause damage, including to the image of the Russian Federation.
However just piling everything together is meaningless, inappropriate, and baseless. If one sees it as a line of attack, then very well. Let me listen to it one more time. But I repeat it, I’d like to repeat that I have heard it many times. But this doesn’t baffle me. I know which direction to move in to secure the interests of the Russian state.
Belarus and Ukraine
KEIR SIMMONS: Let’s move on to Belarus and Ukraine, two issues that will certainly come up in your summit with President Biden. Did you have prior knowledge that a commercial airliner would be forced to land in (THROAT CLEARING) Belarus and that a journalist would be arrested?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. I did not know about this. I didn’t know about any airliner. I didn’t know about the people who were detained there subsequently. I found out about it from the media. I didn’t know, I didn’t have a clue about any detainees. It is of no interest to us.
KEIR SIMMONS: You appear to have approved of it judging by your meeting with President Lukashenko soon afterwards.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Not that I approve of it. Not that I condemn it. But, well, it happened. I said recently in one of the conversations with a European colleague the version of Mr. Lukashenko told me that information had been given to them that there was an explosive device on board the plane. They informed the pilot without forcing the pilot to land. And the pilot made a decision to land in Minsk. That is all. Why should I not believe him? Ask the pilot. It’s the simplest thing. Ask the chief pilot. Ask the commander of the aircraft. Did you ask him if was he forced to land? Because I have not heard or seen an interview with the commander of the aircraft that landed in Minsk.
Everybody accuses Lukashenko, but the pilot hasn’t been asked. You know, I cannot but recall another similar situation where the plane of the president of Bolivia was forced to land in Vienna at the order of the U.S. administration. […]
KEIR SIMMONS: In the case of neighboring Ukraine earlier this year, the European Union said you had more than 100,000— troops (THROAT CLEARING) on the Ukrainian border. Was that an attempt to get Washington’s attention?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, first, Ukraine itself constantly and I think is still doing that kept bringing personnel and military equipment to the conflict area in the southeast of Ukraine, Donbas. That’s one. Two is that we conducted exercises in our territory and not just in the south of the Russian Federation but also in the far east and in the north, in the Arctic.
Simultaneously, military exercises were being held in different parts of the Russian Federation. At the very t— at the same very time, the U.S. was conducting— military exercises in Alaska. Do you know anything about it? Probably not. But I’ll tell you that I do know.
And that is in direct proximity to our borders. But that’s in your territory, on your land. We didn’t even pay attention to it. What is happening now? Now, at our southern borders, there is— there is a war game, Defender Europe, 40,000 personnel, 15,000 units of military equipment. Part of them have been airlifted from the U.S. continent directly to our borders. Did we airlift any of our military technology to the U.S. borders? No, we did not.
KEIR SIMMONS: Many of those exercises are a response to your actions, Mr. President. Do you worry that your opposition to NATO has actually strengthened it? For six years, NATO has spent more on defense.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Some defense. During the USSR era, Gorbachev, who is still thank God, with us, got a verbal promise that there would be no NATO expansion to the east. […] Of course, everything should be sealed and written on paper. But what was the point of expanding NATO to the east and bringing this infrastructure to our borders, and all of this before saying that we are the ones who have been acting aggressively?
Why? On what basis? Did Russia after the USSR collapsed present any threat to the U.S. or European countries? We voluntarily withdrew our troops from Eastern Europe. Leaving them just on empty land. Our— people there— military personnel for decades lived there in what were not normal conditions, including their children.
We went to tremendous expenses. And what did we get in response? We got in response to the infrastructure next to our borders. And now, you are saying that we are threatening somebody. We’re conducting war games on a regular basis, including sometimes surprise military exercises. Why should it worry the NATO partners? I just don’t understand that.
Alexei Navalny, again
KEIR SIMMONS: […] Will you commit that you will personally ensure (THROAT CLEARING) that Alexei Navalny will leave prison alive?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president. They’re made by the court whether or not to set somebody free. As far as the health, all individuals who are in prison, that is something that the administration of the specific prison or penitentiary establishment is responsible for.
And, there are medical facilities in penitentiaries that are perhaps not in the best condition. And they are the ones whose responsibility it is. And I hope that they do it properly. But to be honest, I have not visited such places for a long time.
I visited one in Saint Petersburg some time ago and that was a very grave impression that was made on me by the medical facilities in a prison. But since then, I hope, some things have been done to improve the situation. And I proceed from the premise that the person that you have mentioned, the same kind of measures will—apply to that person, not in any way worse than to anybody else who happens to be in prison.
KEIR SIMMONS: His name is Alexei Navalny. People will note that you weren’t prepared to say…
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Oh, I don’t care.
KEIR SIMMONS: …that he would leave prison alive.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, look. Please listen to me carefully. His name can be anything. He’s one of the individuals who are in prison. For me, he is one of the citizens of the Russian Federation who has been found guilty by a court of law and is in prison. There are many citizens like that.
By the way, our so-called prison population, the people who are in prison, has in the last few years been reduced by almost 50%, which I consider a big victory for us and a major sign of our legal system becoming more humane.
He will not be treated any worse than anybody else. Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment. It would be wrong. Everybody should be in an equal situation. This is called the most favored nation treatment. Not worse than anybody else. And the person that you have mentioned, that applies to him as well.
China, Russia, and America
KEIR SIMMONS: I want to ask you about China. China is working on its fourth aircraft carrier. It has two. Russia has one, and it’s not in service at the moment. China refused to take part in arms control talks last year. You complain so much about NATO to your west. Why do you never complain about China’s militarization to your east?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: The first thing I want to say is that over the last few years, the last few decades, we have developed a strategic partnership relationship between Russia and China that previously had not been achieved in the history of our nations, a high level of trust and cooperation in all areas: in politics, in the economy, in the area of technology, in the area of military and technical cooperation. We do not believe that China is a threat to us. That’s one. China is a friendly nation. It has not declared us an enemy, as the United States has done. Don’t you know anything about this? That’s— that’s number one. Number two is that China is a huge, powerful country, 1.5 billion. In terms of purchasing power parity, the Chinese economy has exceeded that of the United States. And in terms of trade for the previous year, last year, China has tied Europe for first place, whereas the U.S. has dropped to second position. Do you know about this?
China has been developing. And I understand that what’s beginning is a certain kind of confrontation with China. Everybody understands it. We can see it. Why hide from and be scared of— these issues? However, we’re not alarmed by it, including, among other things, by the fact that our defense sufficiency, which is how we describe it, is at a very high level, including because of this. But the most important thing is the nature and level of our relationship with China. You said China will have four aircraft carriers. How many does the United States have?
KEIR SIMMONS: A lot more.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: There you go. That’s my point. Why would we worry about the Chinese aircraft carriers? On top of everything else, we have a hugely vast border with China, but it’s a land border. It’s a land border. What? Do you think the Chinese aircraft carriers will cross our land border? This is just a meaningless conversation…
KEIR SIMMONS: But you also have a Pacific coast.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You are right that there will be four of them. It is correct that there will be four of them. Right. Coast? Well, the coast is huge. But the bulk of the border between us and China is a land border. And, yes you’re right that there will be four of them because one needs to be in maintenance, one needs to be on combat duty, one needs to be in repairs. There is nothing excessive here for China.
That is why you said that China won’t engage in arms control negotiations. It refuses to negotiate reductions in nuclear offensive weapons. You should ask the Chinese about it, whether it’s good or bad. It’s for them to decide. But their arguments are simple and understandable.
The level both in terms of the amount of ammunition and warheads and delivery vehicles, the United States and Russia are far, far ahead of China. And the Chinese justly say, “Why would we make reductions if we are already far behind what you have? Or do you want us to freeze our level of nuclear deterrence?
“Why should we freeze? Why can a country with a 1.5 billion population cannot at least set the goal of achieving your levels?” These are all debatable issues that require thorough consideration. But making us responsible for China’s position is just comical.
KEIR SIMMONS: What do you think of China’s treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, I have met certain Uyghurs. It’s also possible to find individuals who criticize the central authorities. I have met Uyghurs on my trips to China, and I assure you at the very least what I heard with my own ears, that on the whole they welcome the policies of the Chinese authorities in this area. They believe that China has done a great deal for people who live in this part of the country from the perspective of the economy, raising the cultural level, and so on and so forth. So why should I offer assessments looking at the situation from outside…
KEIR SIMMONS: You know there are many Uyghurs who do not say that and that America has accused China of genocide. The secretary of state has accused China of genocide over the Uyghurs. There is the accusation of a million Uyghurs in so-called concentration camps. Is that your message to the Muslim communities in the former Soviet Union? You don’t think anything wrong is happening there?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: As far as the Muslim community in Russia, I need to give a message to it through policies of the Russian authorities vis-à-vis Muslims in the Russian Federation. That is how I need to give my message to the Muslim community in the Russian Federation. We’re an observer in the Organization of Islamic Conference.
About 10% of our population, probably a little more, are Muslims. They are citizens of the Russian Federation who do not have any other fatherland. They’re making a colossal contribution to the development of our country. And that pertains to both clerics and ordinary citizens.
Why should I speak to and build a relationship with this part of our population by reference to the situation in China without understanding thoroughly what is happening there? I think that you’re better off asking about all these problems the foreign minister of the Chinese People’s Republic or the U.S. State Department.
KEIR SIMMONS: It’s just a question of whether you are prepared to criticize China. China, for example, abstained on Crimea at the Security Council. China’s biggest banks have not contravened American sanctions against Russia. Do you think you get 100% support from China?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: You know, we are neighboring countries. One does not choose one’s neighbors. We are pleased with the high level of our relationship as it has evolved over the last few decades, and we cherish it, just like our Chinese friends cherish it, which we can see. Why are you trying to drag us into some kind of matters that you evaluate as you see fit for building your relationship with China? I will tell you completely can I be completely honest? We can see attempts at destroying the relationship between Russia and China. We can see that those attempts are being made in practical policies. And your questions, too, have to do with it. I have set forth my position for you.
I believe that this is sufficient, and I’m confident that the Chinese leadership being aware of the totality of these matters, including the part of their population who are Uyghurs, will find the necessary solution to make sure that the situation remains stable and benefits the entire multi-million-strong Chinese people, including its Uyghur part.
KEIR SIMMONS: You understand, of course, I— I’m just trying to question you about Russia’s position in relation to China and the United States. Let me ask you in a different way. Are you splitting off from the U.S. space program and moving forward with China?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: No. No, why? We are prepared to work with the U.S. in space. And I think recently the head of NASA said that he could not imagine development of space programs without its partnership with Russia. We welcome this statement and value.
KEIR SIMMONS: Can I just explain? Because the head of the Russia space agency has threatened leaving the international space program in 2025 and specifically talked about sanctions in relation to that threat.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: Well, honestly, I don’t think that Mr. Rogozin, that is the name of the head of Roscosmos, has threatened anyone in this regard. I’ve known him for many years, and I know that he is a supporter of expanding the relationship with the U.S. in this area, in space.
Recently, the head of NASA spoke in the same vein. And I personally fully support this. And we have been working with great pleasure all of these years, and we’re prepared to continue to work. For technical reasons though, and that’s a different matter, is that the International Space Station is coming to an end of its service life.
And maybe in this regard, Roscosmos does not have plans to continue their work. However, based on what I heard from our U.S. partners, they, too, are looking at future cooperation in this particular segment in a certain way.
But on the whole, the cooperation between our two countries in space is a great example of a situation where despite any kind of problems in political relationships in recent years, it’s an area where we have been able to maintain and preserve the partnership and both parties cherish it.
I think you just misunderstood what the head of the Russian space program said. We are interested in continuing to work with the U.S. in this direction, and we will continue to do so if our U.S. partners don’t refuse to do that. It doesn’t mean that we need to work exclusively with the U.S.
We have been working and will continue to work with China, which applies to all kinds of programs, including exploring deep space. And I think there is nothing but positive information here. Frankly, I don’t see any contradictions here. I don’t think there is any mutual— exclusivity here.
KEIR SIMMONS: Let me ask you one more way just to understand the relationship between China, Russia, and America. If the People’s Liberation Army made a move on Taiwan how would Russia respond to that?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What? Are you aware of China’s plans to militarily solve the Taiwan problem? I don’t know anything about it. As we frequently say, politics does not require the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is inappropriate in politics. There is no “could be” and “would be” in politics.
I cannot comment on anything that is not a current reality of the modern world. Please bear with me. Don’t be angry with me. But I think this is a question about nothing. This is not happening. Has China stated that it intends to solve the Taiwan problem militarily? It hasn’t happened.
For many years, China has been developing its relationship with Taiwan. There are different assessments. China has its own assessment. The U.S. has a different assessment. Taiwan may have its different assessment of the situation. But fortunately, it hasn’t come to a military clash.
Next president of Russia?
KEIR SIMMONS: Mr. President, you extended the constitution so that you could be president of Russia until 2036. Do you worry that the longer you are in power and without any sign of someone to replace you, the more instability there may be when you finally do choose to leave office?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: What will collapse overnight? If we look at the situation in which Russia was in the year 2000 where it was balancing on the brink of preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty, the number of individuals below the poverty line was colossal. It was catastrophic.
The GDP level had dropped below anything that’s acceptable. Our FX and gold reserves were $12 billion, whereas our foreign debt was $120 billion if we count it in dollars. Now, there are many other problems. The situation is completely different.
Of course, somebody will come and replace me at some point. Is all of this going to collapse? We’ve been fighting international terrorism. We have nipped it in the bud. Is it supposed to come back to life? I don’t think so. Another matter is that on the political scene, different people can emerge with different points of view. Great. Very good. You know, I have linked my entire life to my entire fate to the fate of my country to such an extent that there isn’t a more meaningful goal in my life than the strengthening of Russia. If anybody else and if I see that person, even if that person is critical of some areas of what I have been doing, if I can see that this is an individual who has constructive views that he or she is committed to this country and is prepared to sacrifice his entire life to this country, nor just some years, no matter his personal attitude to me, I will make sure, I will do everything to make sure that such people will get support.
It is a natural biological process. At some point, someday, we will all be replaced. You will be replaced at where you are. I will be replaced at where I am. But I am confident that the fundamental pillar of the Russian economy and statehood and its political system will be such that Russia will be firmly standing on its feet and look into the future confidently.
KEIR SIMMONS: And would you look from that person for some kind of protection the same way that you offered to Boris Yeltsin when you took over?
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I am not even thinking about that. These are third-tier issues. The most important thing, the single most important thing is the fate of the country and the fate of its people.
KEIR SIMMONS: Very good. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. President. We’ve gone over, and I really appreciate it. It was a really interesting conversation, so thank you.
Full transcript: Keir Simmons, NBC News