Putin says US is in 'deep internal crisis'

Andrew Higgins, The New York Times

Posted at Jun 16 2020 03:17 AM

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Sunday described the United States as a country gripped by a “deep internal crisis” and attributed it to what he said was a refusal by opponents of President Donald Trump to accept his “obvious” 2016 election victory and his legitimacy as leader.

Speaking in his first interview since the coronavirus pandemic hit Russia hard three months ago and forced him to take shelter at his country residence, Putin also pointed to the racial tensions that have put cities across the United States on edge.

Russia and before that the Soviet Union, he said, always had “lots of sympathy for the fight of African Americans for their natural rights.” But, Putin said, when protests “turn into mayhem and pogroms, I see nothing good for the country.”

He described the pulling down of statues as “undoubtedly a destructive phenomenon” and claimed that protests had at times been infected by “radical nationalism and extremism.”

While insisting that he wanted to be “very careful” in his comments on events in the United States, Putin has often been accused of trying to sow American division, and appeared to be using the interview to do so again, taking a swipe at America’s handling of the coronavirus under Trump.

Putin, too, has come under pointed criticism over his response to the pandemic.

With his approval ratings at their lowest level since he came to power 20 years ago, has been eager to declare victory over the coronavirus so that health concerns don’t again disrupt nationwide military parades, now scheduled for June 24, and a referendum, postponed until July 1, on constitutional changes that would allow him to stay in office until 2036.

Putin also used the interview to take aim at opponents of Trump who have accused the Kremlin of tilting the 2016 election in his favor, something Moscow has repeatedly denied doing. U.S. intelligence agencies, in a joint assessment of suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 vote, concluded in January 2018 that “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

America’s “long-standing” problem with racism, Putin said, had aggravated a deep crisis of legitimacy that “we have been observing for a long time.” Instead of accepting that Trump “obviously won in an absolutely democratic way,” supporters of Hillary Clinton “came up with all sorts of fables to cast doubt on his legitimacy,” he said.

Putin’s comments were broadcast Sunday evening on state television after a weekly television news digest that gave a picture of relentless mayhem on American streets. The host, Dmitri Kiselyov, suggested that the United States today resembles the Soviet Union as it stumbled toward collapse at the end of 1991.

The idea that the United States faces an existential crisis with echoes of the crisis-plagued Soviet empire has become a popular theme in Kremlin-controlled news media outlets in recent days, particularly on television.

“This is their perestroika,” said Vladimir Solovyov, the host of a Sunday night talk show, referring to the chaotic process of reform that Mikhail S. Gorbachev began in the mid-1980s. His goal was to revive the Soviet Union, but it ultimately led to its destruction.

Contrasting Russia’s response to the pandemic with that of the United States, Putin said, “We are exiting the coronavirus situation steadily, with minimal losses, God willing, but in the States it isn’t happening like this.”

Russia, with around 9,000 new infections reported daily, is the third-hardest-hit country after the United States and Brazil. It has repeatedly declared that it has the virus under control, despite evidence that it is still spreading fast in some areas and persistent questions about its unusually low official death toll. Moscow last week began lifting lockdown restrictions that had been among the most stringent in the world.

Russia’s handling of the coronavirus, he said, has proved the importance of having a “single team” in control of the country instead of a fragmented system, as in the United States. There, he said, governors are free to tell the president to “get lost,” and “partisan interests are put above the interests of the whole society and the interests of the people.”