Despite early signals from the Trump administration that it would not mind improving relations with Russia, which seemed to hit rock bottom during the last months of the Obama presidency, Moscow “had no special expectations” with regards to the new US President Trump, the Russian leader said in an interview to be published in full Wednesday.
While US presidents “come and go,” its political landscape is hardly prone to changes, Putin said, noting that the incumbent US leader “is steering a traditional US policy.”
This political invariability can be ascribed to the sprawling US bureaucratic machine, which imposes rigid constraints on every neophyte leader as soon as he rises to power, Putin argued.
“When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits… These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes,” Putin elaborated, noting that no administration is able to escape this trap, which significantly narrows its room for maneuver.
Putin argued that former US President Obama also fell victim to the system as he was not able to deliver on his pre-election promise to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison. Describing Obama as a “forward-thinking man,” Putin said that he has no doubt that Obama genuinely wanted to follow through his pledge, but failed even though the controversial Cuban prison was known primarily for torture and a practice of unlawful detentions.
“Can you imagine France or Russia acting this way? This would have been a disaster. But it is possible in the United States and continues to this day,” Putin said, referring to widespread and well-documented human rights abuses in the prison.
The Russian president said Moscow still hopes for a political normalization with Washington, but is in “no hurry” and “ready to wait” until the anti-Russian hysteria, fueled by the defeated party which seeks to shift the blame for its own loss on Russia, subsides.
“That said, I am cautiously optimistic, and I think that we can and should be able to reach agreements on key issues,” he said.
Criticizing the increase in NATO military spending and its build-up on Russia’s doorstep, Putin nevertheless noted that Trump showed a “pragmatic and understandable approach” when he demanded from other NATO member states to share the financial burden of common defense with the US.
Dismissing allegations of Russian meddling in the US and French presidential elections, Putin argued that claims that Moscow was behind the hacks of the Democratic National Committee emails have not been supported by evidence. He added that it does not take much effort to cover up the source of the attack for the purpose of making Moscow a scapegoat.
“As President Trump once said, and I think that he was totally right when he said it could have been someone sitting on their bed or somebody intentionally inserted a flash drive with the name of a Russian national, or something like that,” Putin said.
The Russian leader believes that essence of the problem lies not in the Moscow’s perceived interference in the electoral process, but in the unwillingness of those who were stunned by the defeat in the November elections to take responsibility for their poor performance.
“They are absolutely reluctant to admit this, and prefer deluding themselves and others into thinking it was not their fault, that their policy was correct, they did all the right things, but someone from the outside thwarted them. But it was not so. They just lost and they have to admit it,” Putin said.
Apparently, Trump turned out to be “closer to the people and better understood what ordinary voters want,” Putin said, suggesting that the Democrats need to put up with the fact and adding that when those drop this mindset “it will be easier for us to work [with the US].”
While there is no timeline for when such a turnaround will happen, Putin believes that this phase in US-Russia relations, during which Russia is being dragged into US internal policy, is temporary.
“The fact that this is being done using anti-Russia tools is not good, as it brings discord into international affairs,” Putin said. “But it will pass, everything passes, and this will pass as well.”