(CN) — In a rare interview with Western press, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the idea of liberalism “obsolete” and warned that the United States was pushing the world into a dangerous new arms race.
The Financial Times of London on Friday published a 90-minute interview two of its editors had with Putin inside the Kremlin. In the interview, Putin is seen calmly sitting at a table with the journalists and answering questions about Syria, the threat posed by China’s growing power and the killing of spies in Great Britain with the use of a nerve agent.
The interview — the BBC reported that it was the first sit-down interview the Russian president has granted to a British newspaper in about 20 years — took place on the eve of a G20 meeting in Japan where Putin is meeting President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and other world leaders.
Putin’s dismissal of liberalism was the headline-grabber. Putin’s Russia has been accused of undermining Western notions of democracy and liberalism by seeking to influence critical elections, most significantly the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and before that the United Kingdom’s referendum on leaving the European Union.
European Council President Donald Tusk quickly repudiated Putin.
“I have to say that I strongly disagree with the main argument that liberalism is obsolete,” Tusk said in a statement. “We are here as Europeans also to firmly and unequivocally defend and promote liberal democracy.”
Tusk added that Putin’s claims were tantamount to saying “that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete.”
“For us in Europe, these are and will remain essential and vibrant values,” Tusk said. “What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs — even if sometimes they may seem effective.”
In the interview, Putin is seen explaining the “Trump phenomenon” and the rise of nationalist parties in Europe and claims that liberalism has reached its end. Liberalism is the idea that humans will progress by embracing ever greater individual freedom and by respecting those same rights for others. It has been the dominant form of government since the end of World War II and underpins Western laws and thinking.
But Putin called its value into question.
“What is happening in the West? What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon? What is happening in Europe as well?” Putin asked.
In explanation, he said: “The ruling elites have broken away from the people.”
He added: “There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose.”
The Russian president, who is a darling among far-right politicians, then attacked multiculturalism as “no longer tenable.” He said the public is turning against immigration, open borders and multiculturalism.
“[Liberals] cannot simply dictate anything to anyone just like they have been attempting to do over the recent decades,” he said.
He said multiculturalism cannot be “allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.”
Putin praised Trump for seeking to stop immigrants and drugs from entering the United States from Mexico.
“This liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done,” he told the newspaper. “That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected.”
He added: “The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”
Putin, 66, has been at the helm of Russia for nearly two decades. He has overseen the country’s re-emergence as a major force on the world stage, while using an iron grip to wield power in Russia and stamp out opposition with violent means.
He disrupted the balance in Europe by annexing Crimea in 2014 from Ukraine and seeking to slice off Russian-speaking regions from Ukraine.
Russia is accused of meddling in the U.S. elections, the Brexit referendum and European elections. He denies Russia’s involvement.
Putin warned that tensions between the U.S. and Iran were “explosive” and he attacked the United States for its go-it-alone approach.
He also warned of a new nuclear arms race over the breakdown of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a treaty the U.S. and Russia entered into banning land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers. The United States charges that Russia has violated the treaty and Trump has said he will withdraw from it.
“I believe there is such a risk,” Putin said of a new arms race. “We said we are ready to hold talks and to extend this treaty between the United States and Russia but we have not seen any relevant initiative from our American partners. If this treaty ceases to exist, then there would be no instrument to curtail the arms race.”
Putin said he could envision war breaking out between China and the United States.
“You know, the entire history of mankind has always been full of military conflicts,” he said. “I hope it will not come to this. China is showing loyalty and flexibility to both its partners and opponent. Therefore I do not think there would be some such threats from China. But it is hard to say whether the United States would have enough patience not to make any rash decisions, but to respect its partners even if there are disagreements.”
He added: “The Cold War was a bad thing … but there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow. Now it seems that there are no rules at all.”
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)