Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked some jokes at the West’s expense during a key session at the annual International Economic Forum moderated by NBC’s Megyn Kelly in St. Petersburg on Friday.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, and Moldovan President Igor Dodon appeared on the panel alongside the Russian president.
Asked about the Paris climate agreement that President Donald Trump withdrew from on Thursday afternoon, Putin replied, “don’t worry, be happy.”
“It’s about preventing temperature changes of two degrees,” Putin said. “We here [at the forum] somehow do not yet feel that the temperature is rising. By the way, we should be grateful to President Trump. In Moscow it’s raining and cold and even, they say, some snow. Now we could blame this all on American imperialism, that it’s all their fault. But we won’t.”
Putin seemed to leave the door open to the US rejoining the agreement, which Trump has said is a possibility.
“The agreement has not yet even come in effect,” he said. “It will come into effect in 2021. So we still have time. If we all work constructively, we can agree on something.”
Kelly later asked Putin about the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russian hackers were responsible for the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, during the 2016 election.
“IP addresses can be invented, a child can do that!” Putin replied. “Your underage daughter could do that. That is not proof.” He then compared US intelligence officials blaming Russia for the hacks to “anti-Semitism and blaming the Jews. This is disinformation.”
Putin said Thursday that the Kremlin did not order the hacking campaign, but acknowledged that “patriotically minded” Russian citizens may have taken it upon themselves to target “people who say bad things about Russia.”
When asked at Friday’s forum about reports that Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, met with members of Trump’s campaign during the election, Putin was again flippant.
“So our ambassador met someone. So what? It’s his job,” he said.
He later quipped that Kelly “shouldn’t be labelling people” when she asked whether he though Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Russia has supported throughout the country’s six-year civil war, was “evil”.
Putin argued that Assad was not responsible for last month’s chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of civilians, claiming the massacre was “orchestrated” by the Assad’s opponents. (Western officials have blamed Assad’s military for the aerial gas attack.)
The Russian leader also questioned why Trump was calling on NATO members to increase their military spending, arguing that the defence organisation “was established as a Cold War instrument in the fight against the Soviet Union.”
“There is no longer any … Soviet Union but NATO is still there,” he said. “The question is, what for?”
Asked if “squabbles” in the West helped Russia, Putin replied that they do if it means that NATO will be dismantled.
Putin and Kelly will sit down for a one-on-one interview on Friday that will be aired on NBC Sunday evening.
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