In four hours at his country residence, Vladimir Putin talked at length about his desire for cooperation with other countries but blamed them for provoking conflict, attacked them for abuses of human rights and democratic freedoms, and gave not an inch on the clashes between Russia and the West, according to The Times.
In particular, Putin had no objections to eventual European Union membership for Ukraine – where Russia cut off gas supplies in January last year in a row about pricing – but he attacked the notion of Ukraine joining NATO. “For 15 years we have been subsidizing the former Soviet Republic with cheap energy,” he said. “What is the logic?”
He recalled an old joke about Erich Honecker, the last East German leader – you could tell which phone on his desk had the direct line to Moscow because it was the one with only an earpiece. “This is the way that Nato functions,” he said, “except that the phone is connected to Washington.”
According to The Times, he dismissed as “another piece of nonsense” suggestions that Russia should be thrown out of the G8 for failing to improve democracy as it promised when it was made a member in 1998. “Let us not be hypocritical on human rights and democratic freedoms,” he said in a swipe at other countries, which is his favourite rebuttal technique. “Let us look what is happening in North America. It is horrible – torture, the homeless, Guantanamo, detention without normal court proceedings.” In Europe, he said, “we can see violence against demonstrators, the use of gas to disperse rallies”.
“Of course, I am a pure and absolute democrat,” he said. “But you know what the problem is – not a problem, a real tragedy – that I am alone. There are no such pure democrats in the world. Since Mahatma Gandhi, there has been no one.”
The Kremlin had summoned a newspaper from each of the G8 countries –Britain, the US, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy, France and Germany – and employed an international public relations company to “put Russia’s message across” before the annual summit, which begins on Wednesday in Heiligendamm, Germany. The Novo Ogarevo residence is where Mr Putin retreats most evenings; his cavalcade, with four outriders, can cover the eight miles in minutes, along a highway lined with new Ralph Lauren and Prada boutiques, but for ordinary commuters in Moscow’s immobile traffic it would take two hours.
For all the trappings of hospitality, Mr Putin’s message, when finally delivered, was uncompromising on all the fronts that threaten to scupper the G8 meeting: not just the US plans for missile defence, but Iran, Kosovo, human rights, protection for foreign investors and Nato expansion.
Mr Putin argued that “an arms race is unfolding”, but blamed the US for starting it by quitting the 1972 AntiBallistic Missile Treaty in 2002, planning to deploy missiles in outer space and developing smaller nuclear weapons. He cautioned that “we do not want to use our resources” for an arms race and that “we will find an asymmetric answer”, pointing missiles at Europe or declining to cut conventional forces near Europe. “Of course, we are returning to that time” when Russian missiles were aimed directly at Europe, he said. Nor did he offer hopes of gentler treatment for Russia’s neighbours with whom he has picked recent fights.