A day or two back I watched an interview of Vladimir Putin by the Financial Times. I was a bit surprised to be able to watch it at all, because the FT is behind a paywall. At the beginning it says:
The Financial Times is the first major international newspaper to be granted an interview with the Russian leader for 16 years. Here is the exclusive interview with editor Lionel Barber and Moscow bureau chief Henry Foy in full.
The trouble with more or less all world leaders is that they are only ever seen briefly, and then usually making speeches, and so you never get to find out what they’re like.
But this interview lasts a full hour and a half, ranges over a great many matters, and Putin does most of the talking. The three of them are sat at a table, one asking questions in English, and the other replying in Russian (with English subtitles). It would seem clear that Putin’s grasp of English is not very good, because after he is asked a question there is a long pause while he listens to the translation from English to Russian of the questions he’s just been slowly asked. I wasn’t sure how well the FT staffers understood Putin, but they made notes as he spoke, which gave the impression that they understood what he was saying – but it could be that the long pauses while they listened to the translations from Russian to English were edited out.
The main thing that I took from the interview was that Vladimir Putin has a sense of humour. For there were little flashes of humour throughout the interview.
I found the principal interviewer, who was asking most of the questions, to be rather tiresome, because he was always trying to catch Putin out, to box him into a corner (although he never succeeded). So Putin came over as being very quick on his feet, very ready with answers. He didn’t confer with anyone either. He came up with all the answers himself.
He referred to other world leaders, such as Donald Trump, as “partners” rather than rivals. The world he depicted was one in which world leaders were all working together, more or less in agreement with each other. Given the opportunity to criticize Trump, Putin didn’t. Although he thought that Angela Merkel had made a “cardinal error” in inviting migrants to Germany.
One thing I didn’t quite understand was why he regarded the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a terrible disaster. As he put it, it was a disaster because about 20 million Russians found themselves living in new states in which they were a minority (Ukraine would be one of these new states, I suppose). I couldn’t really quite see why that was such a disaster. Perhaps it was simply that there was a loss of status?
He also spoke (starting 1 hour and 9 minutes in) about the failure of liberalism in the West. By this I think he meant what I would call progressivism, because modern “liberals” are in no sense classical liberals. He said that the liberal elites had lost the support of the people. He said the same sort of thing had happened in the Soviet Union, in which ordinary people had ceased to have any belief in communism and their political elites, and so didn’t act to prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union. He said that they’d thought that things couldn’t get any worse than they already were, but they soon found out when the Soviet Union broke up that things got much, much worse.
The conversation also covered economics and Syria and China and North Korea. But for me the really good thing about it was that it provided an insight into Putin the man, talking conversationally about stuff for an hour or two. It brought him into focus. Other world leaders would do well to do the same thing, if they want people to know what they’re like, how they think, what concerns them.
Anyway, I thoroughly recommend watching this interview. And having watched it once, I’ve half a mind to watch it again.