More on the Putin Interview

As Putin continued his media tour, CNN released the entire English translation of the transcript from its interview with Prime Minister Putin on August 28 (Russian version here). First, with regards to the allegation that the U.S. tried to start the war on purpose in order to benefit a presidential candidate, it appears that the initial reporting was somewhat misleading. In fact, Putin prefaced his comments by saying that he was speaking hypothetically – “I have some other thoughts, too. What I am going to say is hypothetical, just some suppositions, and will take time to properly sort out. But I think there is food for thought here.” The only factual claim that he made is that there were U.S. citizens in the conflict zone during hostilities. Still, though he didn’t make an actual accusation, his thought process is interesting. Some other money quotes from the interview:

  • [on Russia’s opposition to the Kosovo precedent] At that time, no one was talking about international law; we alone did. Now, they have all remembered it. Now, for some reason, everyone is talking about international law.
  • [on international law] There are two things in international law: the principle of territorial integrity and right to self-determination. What’s needed is simply to reach agreement on the ground rules. I would think that the time has finally come to do it.
  • [on the media coverage in the West] Let’s recall, for example, the interview with that 12-year-old girl and her aunt, who, as I understand, live in the United States and who witnessed the events in South Ossetia. The interviewer at one of the leading channels, Fox News, was interrupting her all the time. All the time, he interrupted her. As soon as he didn’t like what she was saying, he started to interrupt her, he coughed, wheezed and screeched. All that remained for him to do was to soil his pants, in such a graphic way as to stop them. That’s the only thing he didn’t do, but, figuratively speaking, he was in that kind of state. Well, is that an honest and objective way to give information? Is that the way to inform the people of your own country? No, that is disinformation.

You wouldn’t know it watching/reading the news in the U.S., but Putin’s point about Kosovo is very prescient. As a recent article over at The National Interest pointed out, only 46 countries have recognized Kosovo; six out of the 26 EU nations refuse to recognize the country; none of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have recognized Kosovo. In fact, “three-fourths of the international community is following Moscow’s lead on the Kosovo issue rather than Washington’s.” Still, if a majority of the world continues to prefer territorial integrity to self-determination, it begs the question why Russia chose to change its position. Perhaps recognizing the two republics was a way of forcing a discussion on the issue before the conflict died down and fell off the radar screens of the distractible media. Also, with regards to the media, Putin’s assertions are largely correct correct, as has been briefly documented here (though his point regarding the Fox interview, which has been discussed here and here, is wrong). Here is Putin speaking in another interview – this time with German channel ARD (transcript here):

Finally, my earlier argument that Putin’s interviews are part of a coordinated media strategy that alternates between Medvedev and Putin is further supported by the evidence. Looking at news reference volume, you can see that while Putin shot up after his interview on the 28th, Medvedev sharply dropped, almost to his lowest level since the beginning of the conflict. Of course it is possible that, after seeing the reaction to Medvedev’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – the Russian leadership decided to send the more media-capable Putin out to defend Russia’s position. I personally still think that this is a scripted media strategy.

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