Vladimir Putin answered questions from American film director, screenwriter and producer Oliver Stone. The interview was recorded on June 19, 2019 in the Kremlin.
July 19, 2019
The Kremlin, Moscow
Interview with film director Oliver Stone.
Oliver Stone: So, I interviewed Mr Medvedchuk. It was in Monte Carlo. He gave us a very interesting interview. He gave us his view of the Ukraine. I gather that you’re close with him.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I would not say that we are very close but we know each other well. He was President Kuchma’s Chief of Staff, and it was in this capacity at the time that he asked me to take part in the christening of his daughter. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, you can't refuse such a request.
Oliver Stone: Oh, you cannot refuse it?
I thought it was a big honour for you to be the godfather of his daughter.
Vladimir Putin: It is always a great honour to be a godfather.
Vladimir Putin: I will not give a number but several people.
Oliver Stone: Wow. Is it like a hundred or three hundred?
Vladimir Putin: No, no, are you serious? Certainly not. Just a few.
Oliver Stone: Otherwise I would ask you to be the godfather for my daughter.
Vladimir Putin: Does she want to become an Orthodox Christian?
Oliver Stone: Ok, we’ll make her that.
Vladimir Putin: You have to ask her.
Oliver Stone: As long as she stands in church, right?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. How old is she?
Oliver Stone: She is 22 now.
Vladimir Putin: Is she a believer?
Oliver Stone: Yes, she is a believer. She is raised Christian.
Vladimir Putin: I see.
Oliver Stone: You know, young people in America sometimes, they are different.
Vladimir Putin: Young people are different everywhere.
Oliver Stone: They are spoiled to some degree in the western world.
Vladimir Putin: It depends. The older generation always says that about the younger generation.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, I know, I know. That’s true. But I don’t know what is going on with the American culture. It’s very strange right now.
Vladimir Putin: Is there an American culture?
Oliver Stone: As you know, I’ve been very rebel all my life. Still am. And I have to tell you, I’m shocked by some of the behaviours and the thinking of the new generation. It takes so much for granted. And so much of the argument, so much of the thinking, so much of the newspaper, television commentaries about gender, people identify themselves, and social media, this and that, I’m male, I’m female, I’m transgender, I’m cisgender. It goes on forever, and there is a big fight about who is who. It seems like we miss the bigger point.
Vladimir Putin: They live too well. They have nothing to think about.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, but it’s not a healthy culture.
Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.
Oliver Stone: Years ago when we were talking about homosexuality, you said that in Russia we don’t propagate it.
Vladimir Putin: Not exactly. We have a law banning propaganda among minors.
Oliver Stone: Yes, that’s the one I’m talking about. It seems like maybe that’s a sensible law.
Vladimir Putin: It is aimed at allowing people to reach maturity and then decide who they are and how they want to live. There are no restrictions at all after this.
Oliver Stone: Ok. Mr Medvedchuk proposed recently, you know, a plan for solving the tensions in Ukraine between east and west. You know about this?
Vladimir Putin: To be honest, we do not talk so often. He has more free time than I do. But we meet from time to time, especially in connection with his efforts to get detainees released. He devotes much time to this.
He also told me something about his plans on Donbass but I do not know the details. At any rate, I consider it absolutely correct that he calls for direct dialogue with the people who live in Donbass. There is not a single example in recent history when a crisis was settled without direct contact between the sides to the conflict.
He says he thinks it is necessary to fully implement the Minsk agreements and I cannot help but agree with this as well. So, I know the elements of his proposals. He speaks about them in public and I agree.
Oliver Stone: Ok. They have a new president now. Has anything changed in Ukraine? Or still the same?
Vladimir Putin: Not yet. After all, the recent election was clearly a protest vote. A fairly large number of people supported the newly-elect President in central Ukraine, in the east and the south. And these are all people who sincerely seek a settlement in any event. During his election campaign President Zelensky continuously spoke about his readiness to do everything to solve this crisis. And then literally just yesterday, while in Paris, I think, he said suddenly he does not believe it is possible to hold talks with what he called separatists. This is clearly at odds with what he said during his election campaign.
Oliver Stone: So no change?
Vladimir Putin: Unfortunately, none for the time being.
Oliver Stone: Do you think there’s any revulsion? I mean, you were telling me about Ukraine and Russia. Do you think there is any reason for this hatred of Russia in Ukraine?
Vladimir Putin: You know, our relationship is not easy at the moment. This is the result of the grievous events linked with the coup d’état. The other part of this story is propaganda by the current government in Ukraine, which blames Russia for all the tragic events that ensued.
Oliver Stone: Well, historically, do you see these two countries coming together again?
Vladimir Putin: I think this is inevitable. At any rate, the cultivation of normal, friendly and, even more than friendly, allied relations is inevitable.
Oliver Stone: Yeah. Mr Medvedchuk would be a good liaison.
Vladimir Putin: I believe so. But our positions, our points of view, differ on many things. Mr Medvedchuk was born in the family of a man that was said to be convicted during the Soviet times for nationalist activities. He was born in Siberia, where his family and his father virtually lived in exile.
Oliver Stone: What’s the connection?
Vladimir Putin: Connection between what?
Oliver Stone: All this story to my question?
Vladimir Putin: The connection is that he has his own ideas about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. For example, I believe that Russians and Ukrainians are actually one people.
Oliver Stone: One people, two nations?
Vladimir Putin: One nation, in fact.
Oliver Stone: You think it is one nation?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. Look, when these lands that are now the core of Ukraine, joined Russia, there were just three regions – Kiev, the Kiev region, northern and southern regions – nobody thought themselves to be anything but Russians, because it was all based on religious affiliation. They were all Orthodox and they considered themselves Russians. They did not want to be part of the Catholic world, where Poland was dragging them.
I understand very well that over the time the identity of this part of Russia crystallized, and people have the right to determine their identity. But later this factor was used to throw into imbalance the Russian Empire. But in fact, this is the same world sharing the same history, same religion, traditions, and a wide range of ties, close family ties among them.
At the same time, if a significant part of people who live in Ukraine today believe that they should emphasise their identity and fight for it, no one in Russia would be against this, including me. But, bearing in mind that we have many things in common, we can use this as our competitive advantage during some form of integration; it is obvious. However, the current government clearly doesn’t want this. I believe that in the end common sense will prevail, and we will finally arrive at the conclusion I have mentioned: rapprochement is inevitable.
Oliver Stone: I don’t think Mr Medvedchuk would agree. He would say: two nations, similar people. That what he would say, take a strong line on that.
Vladimir Putin: He doesn’t. That is what I am saying.
Oliver Stone: That’s what I’m saying. He does not agree.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, of course. This is what I am saying: our positions on some things, important ones, are different. But at the same time, he speaks in favour of establishing good relations with Russia in order to use these competitive advantages in the economy. He shows how today the Ukrainian economy is completely destroyed because it has lost the Russian market and, most importantly, cooperation in industry. Nobody needs Ukrainian industrial goods on Western markets, and that goes for agriculture too: very few goods are purchased. Round timber is in demand, but soon there will be no timber in Ukraine at all. It’s not like the vast expanses of Siberia.
For example, Europe often takes some steps towards Ukraine – or did so until recently – with, say, permitting purchases of round timber. And this is just one example. In fact, there are many more.
Oliver Stone: Well, someone told me today that Mr Medvedchuk’s party, For Life Party, is up 12 percent in the polls. So he is building a party that has a following, it seems to me.
Vladimir Putin: If so, that is good. To be honest, I don’t know. But if kit is true, that is good.
If so, we can only welcome this because he and his partners in the party stand for restoring relations with Russia. How could we not welcome that? Of course, we welcome it. I have known him for a long time. He keeps his word. If he says something, he does it.
Oliver Stone: So, he is a very courageous man, I think. His villa was bombed, his offices were bombed. He is under threat all the time. He is hanging in there, staying in his country.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is true because he has convictions. I mentioned that his father was a Ukrainian nationalist and was convicted by a Soviet court for this. Strange as it may seem but the founders, many founders of Ukrainian nationalism advocated good relations with Russia. They said good relations were necessary for the development of Ukraine itself.
Oliver Stone: When was that?
Vladimir Putin: This was in the 19th century. They came out for Ukraine’s independence but said that Ukraine must preserve good, friendly relations with Russia. Mr Medvedchuk adheres to similar ideas. This is why he has convictions. I may not agree with his position on something but I always respect it.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, two nations he says. When I hear the words “Ukrainian nationalism,” I get worried, because I think of Stepan Bandera and people who have convictions too.
Vladimir Putin: Me, too.
Oliver Stone: Ukrainian nationalism is dangerous too.
Vladimir Putin: In general nationalism is a sign of narrow-mindedness but I do not want to offend Mr Medvedchuk.
Oliver Stone: It’s words.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, but in any event, he is in the category of people who advocate independence, the consolidation of an independent Ukraine, but at the same time believe that it is easier to achieve this by pursuing cooperation with Russia. And I think he is largely right.
Oliver Stone: You’re very clear.
You talked about the coup d’état. Just want to revisit that because there has been a lot more research done. It seems that research has revealed that there were shooters, snipers at the Maidan. The forensics with the angle of shooting, bodies of the police and the protestors. It was all very badly investigated. Not at all really. But what evidence we have seems to point to there being, they say, Georgian shooters, people from Georgia. And I’ve heard that. Have you heard anything more on the Russian front?
Vladimir Putin: No but I know what you are talking about. I know that the authorities headed by President Yanukovych at that time did not use the army and were not interested in giving any excuse to the opposition to use force. And, as Mr Yanukovych told me repeatedly, it did not even occur to him to use force and the military against civilians, even against those who had already taken up arms. I completely rule out that he could have done this, but those who were looking for a pretext to stage a coup could have well done it, of course.
Oliver Stone: I remember you were telling me about the Obama phone call, Obama and you had an agreement that there would be no firing on the last day. And he gave you a promise that he would…
Vladimir Putin: You know, while Obama is no longer President, there are certain things we do not discuss in public. At any rate, I can say that the US did not follow through on the agreements that we reached during this phone call. I will stop there without going into detail.
Oliver Stone: Yes. So recently, you know Russia has been obviously accused and accused over and over again of interference in the 2016 election. As far as I know there is no proof, it has not turned up. But now in the US there has been an investigation going on about Ukraine’s interference in the election. It seems that it was a very confusing situation, and Poroshenko seems to have been very strongly pro-Clinton, anti-Trump.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, this is no secret.
Oliver Stone: Do you think there was interference?
Vladimir Putin: I do not think that this could be interpreted as interference by Ukraine. But it is perfectly obvious that Ukrainian oligarchs gave money to Trump’s opponents. I do not know whether they did this by themselves or with the knowledge of the authorities.
Oliver Stone: Where they giving information to the Clinton campaign?
Vladimir Putin: I do not know. I am being honest. I will not speak about what I do not know. I have enough problems of my own. They assumed Mrs Clinton would win and did everything to show loyalty to the future US administration. That is nothing special. They wanted the future President to have a good opinion of them. This is why they allowed themselves to make unflattering statements about Trump and supported the Democrats in every possible way. This is no secret at all. They acted almost in public.
Oliver Stone: You do not want to go any further on that because you do not have any information?
Vladimir Putin: You know, this would be inappropriate on my part. If I said something more specific, I would have to put some documents, some papers on the table.
Oliver Stone: You understand that it has huge implications because Mr Trump would be very grateful?
Vladimir Putin: I did not interfere then, I do not want to interfere now, and I am not going to interfere in the future.
Oliver Stone: But that is a noble motive. Unfortunately, the world has degenerated in these two years, with all this backbiting and accusations, dirty fighting. Anyway…
Vladimir Putin: There are no rules at all. It is no holds barred.
Oliver Stone: Well, you have rules. You say no interference.
Vladimir Putin: I have principles.
Oliver Stone: Ok. But you seem to have rules based on those principles.
Vladimir Putin: Well, yes.
Oliver Stone: Ok. Well, you are fighting with one hand tied behind your back.
Vladimir Putin: Why? You mean, because of these principles?
Oliver Stone: Yes. If you knew something about the election, it would tilt the balance in a very weird way.
Vladimir Putin: I think this is simply unrealistic. I have said so many times.
Oliver Stone: What is unrealistic?
Vladimir Putin: To change anything. If you want to return to US elections again – look, it is a huge country, a huge nation with its own problems, with its own views on what is good and what is bad, and with an understanding that in the past few years, say ten years, nothing has changed for the better for the middle class despite the enormous growth of prosperity for the ruling class and the wealthy. This is a fact that Trump’s election team understood. He understood this himself and made the most of it.
No matter what our bloggers – or whoever’s job it is to comment on the internet – might say about the situation in the US, this could not have played a decisive role. It is sheer nonsense. But our sympathies were with him because he said he wanted to restore normal relations with Russia. What is bad about that? Of course, we can only welcome this position.
Oliver Stone: Apparently, it excited the Clinton people a lot. The Clinton campaign accumulated the “Steele dossier.” They paid for it. It came from strange sources, the whole “Steele dossier” issue. Some of it comes from Ukraine. They also went out of their way, it seems to me, with the CIA, with Mr Brennan, John Brennan, and with Clapper, James Clapper, and Comey of the FBI. They all seem to have gotten involved, all intelligence agencies, in an anti-Trump way.
Vladimir Putin: They had levers inside the government, but there is nothing like that here. They applied administrative pressure. It always gives an advantage in countries such as the USA, some countries of Western Europe, about 2 percent on average, at a minimum.
Oliver Stone: Two percent? What are you talking about?
Vladimir Putin: Yes. According to experts, those with administrative pressure they can apply always have a 2 percent edge. You can look at it differently. Some experts believe that in different countries, it can vary, but in countries such as the United States, some European countries, the advantage is 2 percent. This is what experts say, they can be wrong.
Oliver Stone: I do not know. I heard of the one percent, but it seems to get more like 12 percent.
Vladimir Putin: That is possible, depending on how it is used.
Oliver Stone: Well, you are not disagreeing. You are saying that it was quite possible that there was an attempt to prevent Donald Trump from coming into office with a soft, I will call it a soft coup d’état?
Vladimir Putin: In the USA?
Oliver Stone: Yes.
Vladimir Putin: It is still going on.
Oliver Stone: A coup d’état is planned by people who have power inside.
Vladimir Putin: No, I do not mean that. I mean lack of respect for the will of the voters. I think it was unprecedented in the history of the United States.
Oliver Stone: What was unprecedented?
Vladimir Putin: It was the first time the losing side does not want to admit defeat and does not respect the will of the voters.
Oliver Stone: I would disagree. I would say it happened in 2000, that the Republicans lost the popular vote, they lost Florida, and they did not accept that, and they had a coup d’état in their way, a soft coup d’état also. And they put Bush in.
Vladimir Putin: But this was a court decision, as far as I remember.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, in a way, but the court decision was blocked. There was a vote going on. And if you remember the Brooks brothers’ riot, all those Republicans rushed to electoral offices in Miami, and they prevented the vote from going through in a county, in one of those major counties. It was a key factor. It was not like the Russian revolution. It was a minor event, but it was big. It shifted the momentum, totally. I remember that night. Then they referred it to the Supreme Court. Also, and the same thing in January 2017, when the intelligence assessment was released, what was it, January 7th,, a few days before Trump was to be inaugurated, the intelligence assessment actually said that the intelligence agencies suspected Trump would have been colluding with Russia. That is even bigger. That is an attempt at a coup d’état, because the electors in America still had the right to overturn the election vote.
Vladimir Putin: This is what they call unscrupulous application of administrative pressure.
Oliver Stone: Ok, ok, ok. Well, listen, it seems to be going on a lot more than we know. Talking about America and Russia, I have not seen you since the Kerch Strait. Any comments on that?
Vladimir Putin: No, I do not, as we have repeatedly said. The former President, Mr Poroshenko, staged this provocation intentionally during the election campaign. He was aware that people in the country’s east and south would not vote for him, and he used this provocation to escalate the situation and then declare a state of emergency there. I have reason to believe that he was going to declare a state of emergency in the entire country, and possibly to postpone the election as a result. Generally speaking, he was trying to hold on to power at all costs, and he was seeking any means to execute this plan. This was the regime’s death throes.
As far as I remember, recently the newly appointed Chief of the Ukrainian army’s General Staff has made a statement that offers roughly the same interpretation of events but perhaps using milder language.
Oliver Stone: Who gave that interpretation?
Vladimir Putin: Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Oliver Stone: Ok, but beyond Poroshenko, the United States has a shadow here. The United States knows what he is doing, and supported it.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely.
Oliver Stone: It is the creation of a strategy of tension that worries me enormously. I have seen this happen in so many places now. I think I read on Monday, the Russian bombers, the Russian SU-57 escorted, what was it, the B-52 bomber, a nuclear bomber, US bomber, close to the Russian borders.
Vladimir Putin: The Su-57 aircraft are just entering service. This is a fifth-generation jet fighter. It was the Su-27 that was mentioned.
Oliver Stone: Do you think that is normal?
Vladimir Putin: Actually, it is sad, probably, but this is common practice. US aircraft did not enter our airspace, and our aircraft did not conduct any high-risk maneuvers.
But generally speaking, this is not great. Just look where the Baltic or Black seas are located, and where the USA is. It was not us who approached US borders, but US aircraft that approached ours. Such practices had better stop.
Oliver Stone: In this continuing strategy of tension, there was a report in The New York Times last week that the Obama Administration, before they left office, put in what they call a cyber warfare device. It was inserted in Russian infrastructure in January 2017.
Vladimir Putin: This is being discussed almost openly. It was said Russia would be punished for interfering in the election campaign. We do not see anything extraordinary or unexpected here. This should be followed closely. That is the first thing.
The second is I believe that we only need to negotiate how we are to live in this high-tech world and develop uniform rules and means of monitoring each other’s actions. We have repeatedly proposed holding talks on this subject to come to some binding agreement.
Oliver Stone: Continuing that theme of strategy of tension, how is Russia affected by the US-Iranian confrontation?
Vladimir Putin: This worries us because this is happening near our borders. This may destabilize the situation around Iran, affect some countries with which we have very close relations, causing additional refugee flows on a large scale plus substantially damage the world economy as well as the global energy sector. All this is extremely disturbing. Therefore we would welcome any improvement when it comes to relations between the US and Iran. A simple escalation of tension will not be advantageous for anyone. It seems to me that this is also the case with the US. One might think that there are only benefits here, but there will be setbacks as well. The positive and negative factors have to be calculated.
Oliver Stone: Yeah. Scary.
Vladimir Putin: No, this is not scary.
Oliver Stone: You sound very depressed, much more depressed than last time.
Vladimir Putin: Last time the situation concerning Iran was not like this. Last time nobody said anything about getting into our energy and other networks. Last time the developments were more positive.
Oliver Stone: The situation is worse now?
Vladimir Putin: Take North Korea, they have also rolled back a bit. Trade wars are unfolding.
Oliver Stone: Venezuela.
Vladimir Putin: Venezuela as well. In other words, regrettably, the situation has not improved, so there is nothing special to be happy about. On the other hand, we feel confident. We have no problems.
Oliver Stone: Well, you are an optimist, and always have been?
Vladimir Putin: Exactly.
Oliver Stone: You are a peacemaker.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely spot on.
Oliver Stone: So obviously, you have to get together with the Americans, and the Chinese, and the Iranians. I know.
Vladimir Putin: Just do not put the blame on us. Lately no matter what is happening, we always get the blame.
Oliver Stone: Well, the irony is that Mr Trump came to office promising that he was not going to interfere in other countries. He made this overall strategy, he was against the wars that we have started, and ever since he has been in office, it has got worse. Why, one wonders? Is he in charge, or are other people pushing these agendas?
Vladimir Putin: I think he is against this now, too. But life is complicated and diverse. To make the right decision it is necessary to fight for what you believe in.
Oliver Stone: Yeah, conviction.
It is your fourth term, are you getting tired?
Vladimir Putin: No, if I had been tired, I would not have run for the fourth term.
Oliver Stone: Ok. Listen, can I find out something? Let’s take a pause. I just want to ask my director if he wants to ask any more things about Ukraine. Five minutes?
Vladimir Putin: The director always has the final word; after all, he is the one calling the shots.
Oliver Stone: Thank you.
I think we are fine.
Vladimir Putin: Very well. Are we done?
Thank you so much.
Oliver Stone: Thank you, sir.
Vladimir Putin: Are you going back to the States?
Oliver Stone: I am very worried about you.
Vladimir Putin: Why?
Oliver Stone:I can see there are so many problems. It weighs you down. It is sad to see. It is a tough situation.
Vladimir Putin:It is all right. We have seen worse.
Oliver Stone: Russian bombes in Syria. What has happened to Skripal? Where is he?
Vladimir Putin: I have no idea. He is a spy, after all. He is always in hiding.
Oliver Stone: They say he was going to come back to Russia. He had some information.
Vladimir Putin: Yes, I have been told that he wants to make a written request to come back.
Oliver Stone: He knew still and he wanted to come back. He had information that he could give to the world press here in Russia.
Vladimir Putin: I doubt it. He has broken the ranks already. What kind of information can he possess?
Oliver Stone: Who poisoned him? They say English secret services did not want Sergei Skripal to come back to Russia?
Vladimir Putin: To be honest, I do not quite believe this. I do not believe this is the case.
Oliver Stone: Makes sense. You do not agree with me?
Vladimir Putin: If they had wanted to poison him, they would have done so.
Oliver Stone: Ok, that makes sense. I don’t know. Who did then?
Vladimir Putin: After all, this is not a hard thing to do in today’s world. In fact, a fraction of a milligram would have been enough to do the job. And if they had him in their hands, there was nothing complicated about it. No, this does not make sense. Maybe they just wanted to provoke a scandal.
Oliver Stone: I think it is more complicated. You know, you think I am much too much of a conspiracy guy.
Vladimir Putin: I do not believe this.
Oliver Stone: I have seen things. I do.
Vladimir Putin: You should not. Take care of yourself.
Oliver Stone: Can we get a picture?
Remark: This is a great honour for us. Can we take a picture with you?
Vladimir Putin: With pleasure.