Russian President Vladimir Putin trained his pugnacious rhetoric on President Barack Obama on Friday, answering an allegation that he has lied about Ukraine with the jab: “Who is he to judge?”
In an extensive interview with CNBC at an economic conference in St. Petersburg, the Russian leader insisted that he hopes for a peaceful outcome to the crisis in Ukraine and will support the presidential election there on Sunday.
He flashed anger when he was asked about the American president’s claim that he has lied about Russia’s role in stoking conflict in Ukraine.
“Who is he to judge?” Putin said, according to an interpreter. “Who is he to judge, seriously? If he wants to judge people, why doesn’t he get a job in court somewhere?”
“I don’t think he accused me,” Putin went on. “It’s his point of view. And I have my point of view when he comes to certain things.”
Putin spoke two days before Ukraine holds its first presidential election since Russia seized its Crimean peninsula earlier this year, and since pro-Russian separatists began battling with security forces in east Ukraine.
The Russian leader acknowledged that U.S.-led sanctions have hurt Russia, but he said that Russian is not “trying to fence ourselves out from the world.”
“You can’t force people to like you, as we say in Russia,” Putin said. “But we hope that common sense, good sense and national interest, will push our European and American partners to continue cooperation.”
Asked about Edward Snowden, the former American government security contractor who has leaked details of National Security Agency spying programs, Putin suggested he wasn’t Russia’s problem. Russia has granted Snowden temporary asylum.
“He turned up on our territory because of nonprofessional actions of the Americans themselves, who tried to catch him,” Putin said.
“I used to work for special services. Why did they scare the entire world? They downed the planes with presidents on board, and the plane with Snowden on board they could down anywhere.”
The reference was not immediately clear. But last July, during a worldwide hunt for the fugitive Snowden, a plane carrying the president of Bolivia was forced to land after rumors circulated that Snowden was on board. He turned out not to be.
Snowden this week granted his first American television interview to Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News.” NBC will air that interview in an hour-long special Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.
On the Ukraine election, Putin said that his country will “have respect for the choice that the Ukrainian people make.”
The likely winner is Petro Poroshenko, a political pragmatist who may be able to work with both Russia and the West. The world is watching to see whether the separatists will disrupt the vote.
“Of course, we will cooperate with the newly elected head of state,” Putin told CNBC.
“I’m not kidding, and I’m not being ironic,” he added. “What we want for Ukraine is peace and calm. We want this country to recover from crisis.”
He said that “we will watch very closely what will happen” and said, as he has before, that Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president of Ukraine who was overthrown in February, is still the legitimate president.
The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on well-placed Russians to punish the country for intervening in Ukraine, and they have threatened sanctions against whole Russian industries if Russia disrupts the election.
“What happened now is chaos,” Putin said of the instability in east Ukraine, which the West has accused him of stoking. “The country is sliding into chaos.”
Putin conceded that the sanctions have hurt Russia. He suggested that the United States was trying to gain a competitive business advantage over Europe.
“The sanctions were imposed,” he said. “Now they’re trying to make us to blame for something else.”
First published May 23 2014, 4:16 AM