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Putin: ‘The liberal idea has become obsolete’

Vladimir Putin's Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he believes liberalism has “outlived its purpose” and “become obsolete.”

Speaking to the Financial Times at the Kremlin ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, Putin condemned open-door policies toward migrants and said liberalism has gone too far at the expense of “traditional values.”

“When the migration problem came to a head, many people admitted that the policy of multiculturalism is not effective and that the interests of the core population should be considered,” Putin said in an extensive interview published on June 28.

He described German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming policy toward refugees from the Middle East in 2015 as a “cardinal mistake,” and praised U.S. President Donald Trump, whom he described as a “talented person,” for taking a much harder line on migration.

The bulk of the interview focused on Russia’s foreign policy and covered relations with China, Venezuela, Syria and the United States.

Putin did not stray far from a narrative he has advanced consistently in recent years, calling for a more rules-based international system, for the scaling-back of U.S. hegemony, and for staying out of countries’ affairs.

But it was when the conversation moved to his political beliefs that the Russian president gave perhaps the most comprehensive exposition yet of his take on the ideas animating political developments in a number of Western states.

“The liberal idea presupposes that nothing needs to be done. The migrants can kill, plunder, and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants must be protected,” Putin said. “The liberal idea has become obsolete.”

Russia is home to about 10 million migrants, mainly from Central Asia, who often work in construction and retail. They play a vital role in the nation’s economy as the Russian population ages.

Russia has “no problems with LGBT persons,” Putin said, responding to widespread criticism of Russia’s approach to homosexuality since the 2013 introduction of a law banning gay “propaganda.“

“But this must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions, and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population,” he said. “Traditional values are more stable and more important for millions of people than this liberal idea, which, in my opinion, is really ceasing to exist.”

Putin did not mention the reports that gay and bisexual men in Chechnya have been imprisoned, tortured, and in some cases, killed, in what activists have called a “gay purge” of the southern Russian region.

Several European leaders responded quickly to Putin’s remarks, rejecting his arguments that liberalism was obsolete.

“I strongly disagree with President Putin that liberalism is obsolete,” said Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, in a tweet. “What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs.”

Tusk appeared to be referring to friends and confidants of Putin, mainly from his hometown of St. Petersburg, who have joined the ranks of Russia’s wealthiest, in large part through government contracts during his tenure.

“I am convinced that in this world full of uncertainty, liberal democracies still stand strong. It is not the only existing model, but it is a model that lives on and has its strength,” French President Emmanuel Macron said, speaking to reporters in Japan, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit.

Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister for the past 20 years, was not questioned on many of the core points of disagreement between Russia and the West, in particular Russia’s involvement in the ongoing war in eastern Ukraine and the downing of Flight MH17 at the outset of that conflict in July 2014.

Responding to a question about Russian involvement in the March 2018 poisoning in Britain of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, which, like its role in the MH17 tragedy, Russia has denied from the outset, Putin repeated his argument — in the face of substantial evidence from Scotland Yard — that Moscow’s complicity “must be proved.”

However, Putin did not deny that his government was involved in poisoning the Skripals. And for at least the third time in recent years, he reserved his harshest judgement for those who betray the state.

“Treason is the gravest crime possible and traitors must be punished,” he said. “I am not saying that the Salisbury incident is the way to do it. Not at all. But traitors must be punished.”