On June 14, on the eve of his meeting with US President Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin gave an interview to NBC's Keir Simmons. It was Putin's first interview to the US media in three years. After the transcript was published on the Kremlin's website, journalists discovered that some critical moments had disappeared - for example, the mention of Meduza and VTimes, as well as the phrase “I don't care” in response to a question about Alexei Navalny. However, even without them, the interview is replete with examples of false statements by the Russian president. As usual, he repeated his old fakes - and added new ones.
1. On Afghanistan and the unpredictability of American foreign policy
“There has been talk of a continued presence of troops in Afghanistan. And then suddenly, boom! the troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan. What, is this predictability and the stability again?»
In fact, the issue of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan has been raised by every US president since at least 2009. Then Barack Obama promised to start sending American soldiers home in 2011. However, for many years American leaders kept promising the withdrawal of troops was about to begin, but it did not happen until the end of Donald Trump's presidential term, who signed a peace agreement with the Taliban and began to reduce the number of US troops. Biden, on the other hand, notwithstanding his opposition to Trump on almost all points of domestic policy, maintained a course to reduce the US presence in Afghanistan and only extended the period for sending the troops home until September 11 (Trump wanted to complete the process by May 1). Thus, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is just one of the most vivid examples of the consistency and predictability of US foreign policy.
2. On the «lack of evidence» of Russian cyberattacks on other countries
“We have been accused of all kinds of things: election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.»
“You are conveying information to me as to who said that. But where is evidence that this was indeed done? I will tell you that this person has said that, that person has said this. But where is the evidence? Where is proof? When there are charges without evidence, I can tell you, you can take your complaint to the International League of Sexual Reform. This is a conversation that has no subject. Put something on the table so that we can look and respond. But there isn't anything like that.”
“It's becoming farcical, like an ongoing farcical thing, never-ending farcical thing. You said, «plenty of evidence,» but you haven't cited any proof. But again, this is an empty conversation, a pointless conversation. What exactly are we talking about?»
For years, Putin has ignored the overwhelming evidence that cyberattacks against Russia's adversaries - from Western states and international organizations to journalists and opposition figures – have been carried out by Kremlin-affiliated hackers. The evidence has been repeatedly published by both states and international cybersecurity organizations, as well as by journalists.
For example, in 2017, when unknown persons published letters from the hacked correspondence of Emmanuel Macron's campaign headquarters, the hackers forgot to remove the name of George Roshka from the metadata; as The Insider found out as a result of its investigation, George Roshka is a GRU officer from military unit 26165 (the hacker group Fancy Bear). A year later, the US Department of Justice confirmed The Insider's findings and officially brought charges against 12 servicemen of that military unit in connection with the hacking of US Democratic Party servers in 2016.
Later, the German prosecutor's office issued an arrest warrant for the main suspect in the cyberattack on the German Bundestag, Dmitry Badin, from the same hacker group APT28/Fancy Bear – the hackers gained access to the mail of the deputies and the parliamentary office of Angela Merkel. The Insider and Bellingcat managed to independently confirm Badin's involvement in the GRU attacks.
In 2018, four GRU officers were detained in the Netherlands – Alexei Morenets, Evgeny Serebryakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Minin. Using «spy equipment», they tried to gain illegal access to the networks of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which at the time was investigating the poisoning of ex-GRU officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury and a chemical attack in the Syrian city of Duma. During the arrest, the Russians tried to destroy their telephones. One of them had a check from a taxi with him, confirming that he had travelled from military unit #26165 located at 20 Komsomolsky Prospect, Moscow, to Sheremetyevo airport. The passport numbers of Morenets and Serebryakov differed by one digit (as did the passports of Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, who tried to poison Skripal). There was other evidence that the detainees had been working for the GRU: two of them had cars registered at the GRU Headquarters and the Military Academy of the Ministry of Defense. Bellingcat and The Insider found out that the cars of 305 employees, including Aleksey Morenets, were registered at the address of military unit #26165. The traffic police database listed those officers with all their passport data and mobile phone numbers, indicating the military unit as the place of work for many of them.
Alexei Morenets, Evgeny Serebryakov, Oleg Sotnikov and Alexei Minin
The GRU group of hackers also targeted the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Norway, the Netherlands and other countries, the Ministries of Defense of Denmark, Italy and Germany, the Bundestag, NATO, OSCE, IOC, WADA, JIT, a number of editorial offices of foreign media (including TV5Monde and Al-Jazeera) as well as dozens of Russian journalists, oppositionist activists and members of NGOs.
It is not the only Kremlin hacker group that was caught red-handed. In 2020, the US Department of Justice indicted six GRU officers from military unit #74455. That group, also known as Sandworm, was accused of the most serious known cyberattacks: creating the NotPetya virus, the most devastating one to date, shutting down power plants in Ukraine, perpetrating attacks on NATO military facilities, hacking election commissions in the United States, attempting to disrupt the Olympic Games in South Korea and other crimes. The Insider was able to ascertain that at least three of them - Kovalev, Pliskin, and Frolov - serve in military unit #74455. Their cars are registered to the address of the unit: 21 Svoboda Street. Moreover, as The Insider found out, two of the three - Pliskin and Frolov - also park their cars near Svoboda Street on a regular basis. Andrienko's car is registered at 76b Khoroshevskoye Shosse (the GRU headquarters).
3. On the Law on Foreign Agents
“That's not something that we invented. That law was passed back in the 1930s in the United States. And that law is much harsher than ours, and it is directed and intended, among other things, at preventing interference in the domestic political affairs of the United States... In the United States, this law was adopted a long time ago. It's working, and sanctions under that law are much harsher, up to imprisonment.»
In fact, even formally, the Russian law is much stricter than the American one. From the very beginning of its existence, it did not imply a prison term, unlike the one adopted in the United States. However, at the end of 2020, Putin signed a law that provides for up to five years in prison if a “foreign agent” refused to submit a notification for being included in the relevant register or a report on its activities. The law has already entered into force.
According to the US FARA, passed in the United States in 1938, the punishment also ranges from a fine to a prison term. Foreign agents in the United States are required to disclose their sources of funding, and to indicate in whose interests they act in their information materials. However, unlike in Russia, there is no punishment for quoting a foreign agent without indicating his status in the media. Putin signed the corresponding law at the end of April 2021.
The two laws are even more different in practical application: recently, the Russian authorities began labelling media outlets and NGOs that have fallen out of favor with the regime as foreign agents (sometimes under a pretext of a grant received from the Union of Journalists of Russia), whereas in the United States the corresponding law is used only in exceptional cases and in respect of media outlets directly affiliated with foreign states, such as, for example, the TV company RT, which has been getting money from the Russian budget. Besides it, the US list of foreign agents includes only a few Chinese publications in English. Being included in the list of foreign agents in Russia means frequent checks that hinder the activities of the company, and the loss of advertisers, which often leads to the closure of the publication; whereas RT in the USA currently has no problems: even on its website they do not label themselves as «foreign agents», ignoring the requirements of US law.
4. On the storming of the US Congress and the assassination attempt on Navalny
“I want to ask you: Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn't go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands. 450 people have been detained. They're looking at jail time, between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn't that persecution for political opinions? Some have been accused of plotting to take over government power. Some are accused of robbery. They didn't go there to rob.”
It is completely incomprehensible why Putin, in response to a question from a US journalist about the attempted assassination of Alexei Navalny and his arrest, began talking about the forceful seizure of the Capitol by Trump's supporters in early 2021. This cannot be explained by anything other than the desire to change the subject. But even then, he told a lie. What Putin spoke of as «entering Congress with political demands» was actually a break into the parliament building during a session, with the rioters calling for reprisals against congressmen and looting of the building.
On January 6, 2021, an armed crowd of Trump supporters attempted to prevent the transfer of power after his defeat in the 2020 presidential election and to disrupt a joint congressional meeting held to count the electoral votes to formalize Joe Biden's victory. The Capitol complex was blocked, and deputies and staff were evacuated while rioters took over and ransacked the building within hours. Protesters beat Capitol police officers on the head with lead pipes and other weapons, some of which were disguised as flagpoles. 5 people were killed, including one policeman. 15 police officers were hospitalized, more than 50 were injured. In total, over 140 people were injured during the assault.
The attackers also set up imitation gallows on the Capitol grounds and staged a hunt for congressmen. Some rioters chanted «Hang Mike Pence» (due to Pence's reluctance to ignore the election results). The attackers ransacked and looted the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the offices of other members of Congress. Homemade bombs were found in the offices of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, and Molotov cocktails were found in a car near the Capitol.
As part of its investigation into the attack, the FBI opened more than 400 cases and issued more than 500 subpoenas and search warrants. More than 500 people have been charged with federal crimes. Dozens of people who were in Washington, DC on that day, including those involved in the riots, were later found in the FBI's terrorist identification database, most of them white supremacists. Many have been charged with assaulting law enforcement officials; forced entry and hooliganism on the Capitol grounds; invasion; disruption of a meeting of the Congress; theft or other property-related crimes; gun-related crimes; threats and conspiracy. Among those arrested were Richard Barnett, leader of the Arkansas gun rights organization who stole a letter from Pelosi's desk; Lonnie Coffman, whose truck was found two blocks from the Capitol with eleven homemade bombs, an assault rifle and a pistol; Douglas Jenson, who led the rioters in pursuit of a Capitol police officer; Robert Keith Packer, who wore a Camp Auschwitz T-shirt; William Merry Jr., who tore off a piece of Pelosi's nameplate from the entrance to her office; and Adam Johnson, who stole Pelosi's podium.
Richard Barnett sat inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the January 6 riot
Notably, even if the attackers arrested in the United States had not been neo-Nazis who tried to kill the congressmen, but completely innocent protesters, it is completely incomprehensible how that could serve as an excuse for the FSB's attempt to kill Navalny.
5. On the interception of the plane with Roman Protasevich
«You know, I cannot but recall another similar situation where the plane of the president of Bolivia was forced to land in Vienna on the order of the U.S. administration. Air Force one, a presidential plane, was forced to land. The president was taken out of the aircraft. They searched the plane. And you don't even recall that. Do you think it was normal? That was good, but what Lukashenko did was bad? Look, let us speak the same language and let us use the same concepts. If, well, Lukashenko is a gangster, how about the situation with the Bolivian president? Was it good? In Bolivia, they viewed it as humiliation of the whole country. But everybody kept mum not to aggravate the situation. Nobody is recalling that. By the way, this is not the only situation of this kind. So, what about Lukashenko? If it’s him, you gave him an example to follow».
The Russian president repeated the example the pro-Kremlin trolls and federal TV channels had used earlier in an attempt to justify Alexander Lukashenko's actions. There are no similarities between those two incidents. First, the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was not intercepted and requested a landing in Vienna after France, Spain, Portugal and Italy denied it access to their airspace, presumably over suspicions that the former CIA and NSA officer Edward Snowden was on board.
Secondly, some of those involved in the incident still disagree about whether there was a search on board. Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger said the plane had been searched, although Bolivia's defense minister denied the search, saying Morales had denied access to his plane. Austrian President Heinz Fischer later clarified that an airport employee actually boarded the plane to find out why it had landed in Vienna, and reported technical problems, but «there was no formal check.» The next morning, President Fischer met President Morales on his plane and shared breakfast with him.
Thirdly, the fact that European countries acted «on the orders of the American administration» is merely Putin's interpretation. Although subsequently the press secretary of the US State Department Jen Psaki admitted that the US «had been in contact with a range of countries across the world who had any chance of having Mr. Snowden land or even transit through their countries.»
'Hostage' Protasevich tells reporters: 'Nobody beat me' at the governmental press-conference
Fourthly, this story turned into humiliation not for the Bolivians, but for the European countries themselves, which were forced to make an official apology to the Bolivian government. Their actions were also condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said that «the head of state and his or her plane enjoy immunity.» He also stressed the importance of preventing similar incidents in the future. Therefore, according to Putin's logic, Lukashenko must at least apologize to Greece and Lithuania for his actions.
Fifth, the President of Bolivia flew on a government plane, and not on a regular commercial civil flight like Protasevich. Lukashenko endangered not only his political opponent, but also over a hundred random people - passengers on the same flight. The incident falls under the 1944 Chicago Convention governing access to airspace and the safety of civil aircraft.
6. On the verbal promise to Gorbachev not to expand NATO eastward
“Vladimir Putin: During the USSR era, Gorbachev, who is still, thank God, with us, got a verbal promise that there would be no NATO expansion to the east. Well, where is that promise? Two waves of expansion ...
Keir Simmons: Where is that written down? Where is that promise written down?
Vladimir Putin: Well done. Correct. You’ve got a point. Nah nah nah, got you good. Well, congratulations. Of course, everything should be sealed and written on paper.»
Again, Putin repeated the myth he had mentioned in Oliver Stone's film and which Gorbachev has repeatedly dispelled. The Insider has already written about this in the article called Lie to me. 20 examples of how Putin deceived Oliver Stone.
«As for the Gorbachev “mistake”, in the circumstances it was legally impossible to even discuss such an issue. Until July 1991, there were two military-political blocs - NATO and the Warsaw Pact Organization. “The WPO member states did not raise that issue,” the former leader of the USSR said. Earlier, he explained that the 1990 treaty “two plus four” had dealt with the territory of the former GDR, and only stipulated that “atomic weapons and NATO troops could not be deployed there,” and that the number of Bundeswehr troops was to be reduced over several years. “It was all done,” Gorbachev noted.
Apparently, what we are dealing with here is the misinterpreted phrase uttered by NATO Secretary General Manfred Werner on May 17, 1990 (“the very fact that we are ready not to deploy NATO troops outside the territory of Germany gives the Soviet Union firm security guarantees”), which meant what Gorbachev had himself said about the non-deployment of NATO troops on the territory of the GDR.
German Then-Foreign Minister Hans Genscher made a statement calling on NATO to guarantee the Soviet Union non-expansion to the east, but NATO did not respond to the call, and the call itself was not coordinated with Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
7. On Navalny
“For me, he's one of the citizens of the Russian Federation who has been found guilty by a court of law and is in prison. There are many citizens like that.... He will not be treated any worse than anybody else. Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment. It would be wrong. Everybody should be in an equal situation. This is called the most favored nation treatment. Not worse than anybody else.»
The opposition activist’s wife, Yulia, responded to Putin's assertion that Alexei Navalny is being held in the colony like all other prisoners. She wrote on her Instagram: “Yesterday they showed Putin on TV saying that Alexei is being held in a colony like everyone else. Then I would like to have family visits every three months like everybody else.» According to Navalnaya, the administration of the colony still has not permitted her husband long family visits.
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny is held in prison since January
One can also recall the reasons why the politician went on a hunger strike at the end of March. Doctors were not allowed to see him, and no medication was given, despite pains in his back and leg. Also, almost immediately upon arrival at the colony, he was registered as «prone to escape» - and because of this status, he was woken up at night every hour to be checked. Navalny called it «torture by insomnia.» In response, the FSIN called the opposition activist’s condition «stable, satisfactory.» The agency rejected the complaints about «torture by insomnia», stating that the correctional facility officers «strictly observed the right of all convicts to an uninterrupted eight-hour sleep.»
And certainly not every prisoner is visited by Maria Butina, who after her visit described Navalny as a “pretender” on all federal channels.
8. On Russia's partnership with NASA and Rogozin's threats
“Vladimir Putin: We are prepared to work with the U.S. in space. And I think recently the head of NASA said that he could not imagine development of space programs without its partnership with Russia. We welcome this statement…
Keir Simmons: Can I just explain? Because the head of the Russian space agency has threatened leaving the international space program in 2025 and specifically talked about sanctions in relation to that threat.
Vladimir Putin: Well, honestly, I don't think that Mr. Rogozin, that is the name of the head of Roscosmos, has threatened anyone in this regard. I've known him for many years, and I know that he is a supporter of expanding the relationship with the U.S. in this area, in space. Recently, the head of NASA spoke in the same vein. And I personally fully support this. And we have been working with great pleasure all these years, and we're prepared to continue to work. For technical reasons though, and that's a different matter, is that the International Space Station is coming to an end of its service life. And maybe in this regard, the Roscosmos does not have plans to continue their work. However, based on what I heard from our U.S. partners, they, too, are looking at future cooperation in this particular segment in a certain way. But overall, the cooperation between our two countries in space is a great example of a situation where despite any kind of problems in political relationships in recent years, it's an area where we have been able to maintain and preserve the partnership and both parties cherish it. I think you just misunderstood what the head of the Russian space program said.»
Here Putin lied twice. Firstly, he - inadvertently or intentionally - misquoted NASA chief Bill Nelson. He called relations with Russia «unique» but did not say anything about being unable to «imagine development of space programs without partnership with Russia»: “If you talk to the Russian space workers, they want this cooperation to continue with the Americans. So, I talked to Rogozin about this. I've said, «This is unique, the kind of relationship where we can be at peace cooperating with each other, no matter what our rivalries are on terra firma.» We are partners in space, and I don't want that to cease.”
Secondly, Rogozin's words about further cooperation with the United States really cannot be interpreted other than as a threat or an ultimatum. He stated that Russia would be ready to stay on the ISS and abandon the deployment of its own space station until 2030, provided that the United States lifted sanctions from Roscosmos enterprises: “Either we work together, and then the sanctions must be lifted immediately, or we do not work together, and then we will deploy our own station.”
9. On China's plans to seize Taiwan by force
«Keir Simmons: Let me ask you one more way just to understand the relationship between China, Russia, and America. If the People's Liberation Army made a move on Taiwan, how would Russia respond to that?
Vladimir Putin: Are you aware of China's plans to militarily solve the Taiwan problem? I don't know anything about it. As we frequently say, politics do not require the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is inappropriate in politics. There is no «could be» and «would be» in politics. I cannot comment on anything that is not a current reality of the modern world. Please bear with me. Don't be angry with me. But I think this is a question about nothing. This is not happening. Has China stated that it intends to solve the Taiwan problem militarily? It hasn't happened. For many years, China has been developing its relationship with Taiwan. There are different assessments. China has its own assessment. The U.S. has a different assessment. Taiwan may have its different assessment of the situation. But fortunately, it hasn't come to a military clash.”
Threats to use military force against Taiwan have been repeated many times not only by the state-run Chinese media, but also by Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. For example, in early 2019, in a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the improved relations with Taiwan, Xi reiterated Beijing's call for peaceful unification based on the one country, two systems principle, but called reunification inevitable and warned that China reserves the right to use force.
«We do not promise to abandon the use of force and reserve the opportunity to use all the means necessary,» the PRC President said, adding that the problem is internal, and China will not allow «any interference from outside.»
At the beginning of 2021, the official representative of the Defense Ministry of China Wu Qian spoke in defense of military operations near Taiwan, saying they were «necessary actions for addressing the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait, and for protecting national sovereignty and security.»
“We are warning the 'Taiwan independence' elements: those who play with fire will get burned, and Taiwan's independence means war,” he added. In addition, China has recently stepped up its military exercises in Taiwan's air and sea space.
10. On the closure of border crossings in Syria
“What needs to be set up now is just humanitarian assistance to people, irrespective of any kind of political context. But our partners in the West, in the West in general, both the U.S. and Europeans, have been saying that they're not going to give help to Assad. What does Assad have to do with it? Help out people who need that assistance. Just the most basic things. They won't even lift restrictions on supplies of medications and medical equipment even in the context of the coronavirus infection. But that is just inhumane. And this kind of cruel attitude to people to people cannot be explained in any way.
As far as the border crossings are concerned. There is the Idlib area where combatants are still robbing people, killing people, raping people. And nothing's happening. There is the Al-Tanf Zone, which by the way is controlled by U.S. military. Recently there we caught a group of gangsters, bandits who had come from there. And they directly said that they had specific goals as far as Russian military facilities are concerned.
As for border crossings, our position is such that assistance needs to be given just as it should be done in the entire world, as it is provided for in the provisions of international humanitarian law. Assistance should be given through the central government. It shouldn't be discriminated against. And if there are grounds to believe that the central government of Syria will plunder something, well, set up observers on the part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, oversee everything. I don't think that anybody in the Syrian government is interested in stealing some part of this humanitarian assistance. It just needs to be done through the central government. And in this sense, we support President Assad because a different mode of behavior would be undermining the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic. And that's all.»
By saying that people are “killed and raped” in the Idlib zone, and the US military are preparing “bandits” in Al-Tanf to attack Russian military facilities, Putin is obviously trying to justify the recent closure of three checkpoints - Seraqab, Miznas and Abu-Zeidin. However, he “forgets” that all border checkpoints that are not controlled by Damascus get closed at Russia's behest.
For example, prior to January 2020, the UN Security Council allowed its agencies to deliver aid from northern and other parts of Iraq to northeastern Syria through a single border crossing, from Rabiya in Iraq to Yarubiya in northeastern Syria. It was mainly used by the World Health Organization to provide medical care to the region.
Over 1 million people at risk of hunger in Syria
The Security Council issued that permission in response to the stubborn refusal of the Syrian government to give the UN and other organizations permission to supply territories outside Bashar al-Assad's control.
However, at the end of 2019, Russia and China vetoed the resolution on the provision of cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria. Since a six-year mandate was to expire a month later, the Security Council, under the threat of another veto from Russia, was forced to exclude two of the four checkpoints for the provision of humanitarian assistance - Yaarubiyya and Ramtu, stopping aid to the north-east and south of Syria. «The reduction in the number of checkpoints from four to two is due to the fact that the Jordanian (Ramta) and Iraqi (Yarubiya) checkpoints are actually no longer in use,» the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. And not a word about «killing and raping» or « militants’ training».
According to a statement made by Human Rights Watch in April 2020, the closure of these checkpoints has deprived Syrian citizens of $40 billion in humanitarian aid, of which $30 billion was earmarked for health care, including the fight against Covid-19. Against this backdrop, Putin's accusations that Western countries are not lifting restrictions on the supply of medicines and medical equipment to Syria, even in the face of an outbreak of coronavirus infection, look quite hypocritical. Both the United States and Europe continue to provide assistance to Syrian citizens bypassing President Bashar al-Assad. With the onset of the pandemic, the aid has only increased.