Excerpts from Vladimir Putin's Interview to Bloomberg

September 5, 2016

John Micklethwait: The G-20, this one will be the last times when you'll see Barack Obama. And as you well know there is American election on the way and as you well know there is a choice in that between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Who would you rather have at the other end of the telephone if there is geopolitical situation — Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Do you have a feeling at all?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to deal with a person who is able to take responsible decisions and implement the agreements reached. The name does not matter. Of course, this person is to have the trust of the American people, then he or she would not only have the wish but also the supported political will to implement all these agreements.

We have never meddled in the domestic affairs of any state and we never will. We will keep a close eye on what is happening and wait for the election results and after that we will be ready to work with any Administration given that it wants to work with us.

John Micklethwait: Can I just push you on that? Back in 2011 you accused Hillary Clinton of seeking to trigger the protests that you were facing in Russia at the time. And by the contrast when I look at some of things that Donald Trump said about you back in 2007 that Putin is doing a great job, in 2011 he praised your no-nonsense way, the next year he said you is new best friend, next year he said you're outsmarting the Americans, he said you have good ratings to get …

And I can go on like that. And you are really telling me that if you have a choice between a woman, who you think may've been trying to get rid of you, and a man, who seems to have this great sort of affection to you, almost bordering on the homoerotic, you not going to make a decision between those two, because one of them would seem to be more favorable towards you?

Vladimir Putin: You know, actually I have already answered your question, but I can put it differently, say it in other words: we are ready to deal with any President, but of course, and I mentioned that, it depends on the readiness of the future Administration. We always welcome when somebody says he or she is ready to work with Russia. But if anybody, just like you said, (inaccurate translation possibly), wants to get rid of us, then this is a different approach. However, we will get over it; you never know who is going to lose more with such an approach.

Here is the thing: I have seen several times that anti-Russian cards are being played during domestic campaigns in the United States. I find this approach very short-sighted.

At the same time we receive different signals all around that in fact, everything is fine. The same situation occurred with the previous administrations during the election campaigns, claims that everything will be restored later. I do not think it matches the level of responsibility shouldered by the United States. I suppose it should be more sound, calm and balanced.

As for the criticism we receive, you know, even Mr. Trump's team criticize us. For instance, one of the participants or members of his team claimed that Russia was giving money to the Clintons through some funds and that in fact Russia is controlling the Clinton family. This is nonsense. I do not even know where Bill Clinton delivered his speech and I know nothing about any funds. Both parties simply use it as a tool in their internal political contention, and I am sure it is a bad thing. But again, we welcome the fact that somebody expresses readiness to work with Russia whatever the name of that person.

John Micklethwait: Very quickly: the other accusation you've faced or heard a lot is people connected with Russia or backed by Russia were the people who hacked into the Democratic Party database. Is that, you would also say that is completely untrue?

Vladimir Putin: I know nothing. There are a lot of hackers today, you know, and they perform their work in such a filigreed and delicate manner and they can show their “tracks” anywhere and anytime. It may not even be a track; they can cover their activity so that it looks like hackers operating from other territories, from other countries. It is hard to check this activity, maybe not even possible. Anyway, we do not do that at the national level.

Besides, does it really matter who hacked Mrs. Clinton’s election campaign team database? Does it? What really matters is the content shown to the community. This is what the discussion should be held about. There is no need to distract the attention of the community from the essence of the subject substituting it with secondary questions dealing with the search of those who did it.

I would like to repeat: I know absolutely nothing about it, and Russia has never done anything like this at the State level. Frankly speaking, I could never even imagine that such information would be of interest to the American public or that the campaign headquarters of one of the candidates – in this case, Mrs. Clinton – apparently worked for her, rather than for all the Democratic Party candidates in an equal manner. I could never assume that anybody would find it interesting. Thus, in view of what I have said, we could not officially hack it. You know, it would require certain intuition and knowledge of the U.S. domestic policy peculiarities. I am not sure that even our experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have such intuition.

John Micklethwait: Do you not think this is sort of the time when everyone should sort of come clean about it? Russia tries to hack America, America tries to hack Russia, China tries to hack America, China tries to hack Russia? Everyone tries to hack each other.

One of the purposes of the G-20 is to come up with a new set of rules so this can become a more ordered version of foreign policy when everybody is doing this. Allegedly.

Vladimir Putin: I believe that the G20 should not interfere, because there are other platforms for that. The G20 was established as a forum to discuss, first and foremost, world economic issues. If we load it with…

Of course, politics affects economic processes, this is obvious, but if we bring some squabbles, or not squabbles, rather, some matters that are really important but relate purely to world politics, we will overload the G20 agenda and instead of addressing such issues as finance, structural economic reforms, tax evasion and so forth, we will engage in endless debates concerning the Syrian crisis or some other global challenges, of which there are many, or the Middle East problem. We should find other platforms, other forums for that, and there are plenty of them, including, for example, the UN and the Security Council.

John Micklethwait: Can I ask one last question on Donald Trump. Some people say that he is too volatile to be an American president. You would be happy with him as American president in the same way as you would be happy with Hillary Clinton in that role.

Vladimir Putin: We cannot decide for the American people. After all, despite the scandalous behavior of one and, by the way, the other candidate (they are both scandalous in their own ways), they are smart, they are really smart and they are aware of the leverages they should use to make the voters in the United States understand them, feel them and hear them.

Donald Trump is targeting the traditional Republican voters, the average person with an average income, the working class, a certain group of entrepreneurs and those people who embrace traditional values.

Mrs. Clinton is focusing on a different part of the voters trying to influence them in her own way as well; so they attack each other and in some cases, I would not want us to follow their pattern. I do not believe they are setting the best example. But this is the political culture of the United States, which one should accept as is. The United States is a great country and it deserves non-interference and no third-party comments.

Answering your question for the third time, I can tell you that we will work with any Administration and with any President in whom the American people have placed their trust. That is, of course, if they wish to cooperate with Russia.

John Micklethwait: Very quickly on Syria. Are we any closer to having Russian-American deal about how, a plan for what to happen with Syria. You've had talks recently. It seems that you've got a little bit closer, but is there any progress on that? And do you think we're closer to that than we have been?

Vladimir Putin: You now, the negotiation process is very complicated. One of the main difficulties is that we insist, and our American partners do not object, that the so-called ”healthy part“ of the opposition should be separated from the radical groups and terrorist organizations, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.

However, we get a feeling that Jabhat al-Nusra and those of its kind are disguising themselves, using different names, but nothing changes in essence. They have begun to absorb the ”healthy part“ of the opposition, and there is nothing good about. Besides, it is no longerinternal fighting we are facing. Those fighters have come from abroad supplied with foreign arms and ammunition. Basically, our American partners agree with this, but they just do not know how to deal with it.

Nevertheless, despite all these difficulties, we are on the right track. I should say that Secretary of State John Kerry has done tremendous work. It is astonishing how he manages to be so patient and persistent at the same time. No matter what, I believe we are moving in the right direction, and I do not rule out that, any time soon, we will be able to reach consensus on some issues and share our agreements with the world community. It is too early to speak about it, but, as I have already said, I think we are moving in the right direction. .

John Micklethwait: If you look back over all the time you've been president, you could argue the relationship with the West. All these problems to do with the trust and we can go through each of the individual conflicts. But when you look back over that period in the way that relationship with west has not always worked , do you think there are things looking back you would have done differently if you would known about it?

Vladimir Putin: No, there is nothing I would have done differently. I think it is our partners who should have done many things differently. When the Soviet Union ceased to exist we welcomed our Western partners with open arms. Just remember what it took us to disclose our wiretapping systems in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Nothing like that was done in return. You think CIA does not have any taps listening to us? Of course it does. Moreover, it started working even harder in that respect.

We, for instance, put an end to the flights of our strategic aviation along the U.S. border, while the United States never did so. We conducted no flights for ten years, but the United States never stopped, they kept flying. Why? We said we were ready to create a new system of European security with the participation of the United States. Instead, NATO began to expand, moving closer to our borders: one step, then another one.

We said we needed to address the issues concerning the anti-ballistic missile systems of missile defense, preserving or updating the Anti‑Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and launched an intensive construction of a strategic ballistic missile defense system as part of their strategic nuclear forces transferred to the periphery, and started constructing missile deployment areas in Romania and, subsequently, in Poland.

Initially, as you remember, it was done with the reference to the Iranian nuclear threat, but then an agreement with Iran was signed, including by the United States. The agreement has already been ratified, so there is no more threat, however, the construction of the missile deployment areas is still ongoing. Question is: against whom? Back then we were told, ”It is not against you“. We responded, ”But then we will have to modernize our strike systems“. ”Do what you want, we will think it is against somebody else“. So that is what we are doing. Now, when we have made some progress, our partners have begun to worry, ”How come? What is going on over there?“ Why did they give us such an answer back then? Probably because nobody believed we were capable of doing this.

In the early 2000s, given the total collapse of Russia's defense industry and, frankly speaking, low, to put it mildly, low combat capability of the Armed Forces, nobody could even think that we would manage to recover the combat potential of the Armed Forces and to build the national defense industry all over again. Observers from the United States (you know this, right?) were present at our nuclear weapons production facilities. They were literary there, at the plant, we had that level of confidence. And then followed those moves – first, second, third, fourth. We had to respond somehow, you know. They keep telling us, ”It's none of your business, it doesn't have anything to do with you, it's not against you“.

Not to mention a very sensitive period in our history – the traumatic events in the Caucasus and the Chechen Republic. As a journalist, you should know what was the reaction of the Western political establishment and the media. Did they support Russia's legitimate authorities in their efforts to restore and strengthen the statehood? No, quite the opposite, they supported separatism, and, in fact, terrorism. Everybody was turning a deaf ear to the fact that there, side by side with fighters and separatists, was fighting Al-Qaeda. We were told, ”Do not worry, we are just concerned about the development of democracy in your country“. Thank you very much for such care! But still, our attitude is positive, we understand the logics of political and geopolitical struggle, and we stand ready to cooperate if our partners are ready for such cooperation.

John Micklethwait: If I had to look at the West and to sum up where they think, their side of the argument would be, that they, I think, that the root of their distrust is the idea that they think that you want to expand Russia's zone of influences, in some case geographically, but also the very least to control the countries on your border. And on the moment, the main area of nervousness on that is the Baltics — Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia. Would you be able to.. You talked about the trust.. Would you be able to say something that would give them reassurance on that count?

Vladimir Putin: You see, I believe that all sensible people who are involved in real politics understand that references to threats posed by Russia to, let us say, the Baltic States are absolute non-sense. Do you think we are going to start a war with NATO? How many people are there in the NATO countries? About 600 million, right? Russia's population is 146 million. Yes, we are the largest nuclear power. But do you really think we are going to use nuclear weapons to take over the Baltics? Non-sense. That's the first thing, but not the most important one.

The most important thing is that we have a vast political experience, and we are convinced that you cannot do anything against the will of the people. Nothing can be done against the will of the people! However, it seems that some of our partners fail to understand this. Thinking of Crimea, they choose not to notice that the will of the Crimean people, 70 percent of which are ethnic Russians and the rest speak Russian as their native language, was to join Russia. They prefer to ignore this. In one place, in Kosovo, the will of the people can be honored, but here – it cannot. All of this is about political games.

So, I can reassure you that Russia has been pursuing absolutely peaceful foreign policy aimed at cooperation, and will continue to do so.

As to extending our zone of influence, it took me nine ours to get from Moscow to Vladivostok. It is slightly less than it takes to get from Moscow to New York through the entire Western Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. Do you really believe we need any expansion? It is not territories we are talking about.

As for the influence, well, we do want Russia to have stronger and more tangible influence, but we want it to be absolutely peaceful and positive. What we have in mind is economic and humanitarian influence, which implies developing equal cooperation with our neighbours. This is what our foreign policy, as well as our foreign economic policy, is aimed at. There can be no doubt about it.