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For first interview of new term, Putin puts priority on foreign audience

Putin opined on Obama vs. Romney, crackdowns in Russia, and Pussy Riot in a 40-minute interview given, unusually, to an English-language state channel instead of a bigger outlet.

By Correspondent / September 7, 2012

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a plenary session at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, Friday, Sept. 7.

Mikhail Metzel/AP

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Moscow

Vladimir Putin has addressed what he sees as key misunderstandings in the West concerning his leadership and Russian policies in his first lengthy interview since being inaugurated for his third term as Russian president.

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Many analysts say they're puzzled why Mr. Putin chose a Kremlin-funded boutique station, the English-language Russia Today (RT) network, rather than a major Russian or Western outlet, for the 40-minute interview, but there seems little doubt that he had a foreign audience uppermost in mind. In the course of his chat with RT's suave British anchor, Kevin Owen, Putin fielded questions about Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, the Kremlin's controversial Syria policy, Pussy Riot, the alleged clampdown on Russian opposition, and the tragic death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison.

"Putin's interview was clearly aimed at foreigners, and this is confirmed by the questions he was asked," says Sergei Mikheyev, director of the Center of Political Assessments, an independent Moscow think tank. "RT is aimed at outside audiences, and it's possible it was chosen because a big Putin interview would be the talk of the day and make its ratings go up."

Though the interview opened with Putin's upcoming speech to Pacific Rim leaders at the APEC summit in Vladivostok this weekend, he quickly moved on to more controversial issues.

Weighing in on Obama and Romney

Among other things, he appeared to express a preference for Mr. Obama to win the upcoming US presidential elections, if only because he believes a deal on the thorny strategic issue of missile defense would be more likely with him in the White House.

"My feeling is that [Obama] is a very honest man and that he sincerely wants to make many good changes," Putin said.

"But can he do it, will they let him do it? I mean that there is also the military lobby, and the Department of State, which is quite conservative," he said.

Mr. Romney – who roiled Russia by calling it the US's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" and then doubled down at last week's Republican convention by saying a Romney administration would show Putin "less flexibility and more backbone," especially on missile defense – is merely misguided, in Putin's view.

"We understand that [Romney's harsh anti-Russian stance] is to a certain extent motivated by the election race and election rhetoric, but I also think that he was obviously wrong," Putin said. "We'll work with whichever president gets elected by the American people. But our effort will only be as efficient as our partners will want it to be," he added.

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