VP: You see, that’s quite impossible, because this point of view that we present is ignored by the world media. And if it’s ignored, not on equal footing with the other perspectives, then almost no one hears it. So a narrative is being constructed of some evil Russia—
Vladimir Putin (left) and Oliver Stone in discussion during the filming of “The Putin Interviews.” (Screen shot via Showtime)
The following segment is excerpted from “The Putin Interviews,” a transcript of a series of discussions between filmmaker Oliver Stone and President Vladimir Putin conducted in Russia over nine days between July 2, 2015 and Feb. 10, 2017. The excerpt below is from the “Fourth Interview,” which took place on Feb. 10. This excerpt is reprinted by arrangement with Skyhorse Publishing. Read Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer’s foreword to the book here. The book can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.
On Syria and Defense
OS: Can we quickly get back—in the matter of Syria, it seems to have quieted down. The showing of Aleppo was much-played-up in the Western media as barbaric. And I’ve seen the RT reports from a different perspective about what was happening there in West Aleppo—a different sense of, where the US media was not reporting some of the atrocities that were happening in Aleppo.
VP: You know, this is all part of an information confrontation. Certainly the media are used. If they present lopsided information, they discredit themselves in the end. In any case, when a question arises inevitably, if people are taken hostage by terrorists does it mean that we have to stop fighting terrorists? Should we just give them a blank check to do whatever they please? The question always arises—is the source of this evil the ones who fight terrorists or the terrorists themselves? Just have a look—there has been much talk about the need to provide immediate humanitarian aid to Aleppo. Right now, Aleppo has been liberated of terrorists. And no one talks right now about the need to provide humanitarian aid to Aleppo, even though security and safety have been ensured there. Many partners of mine, my colleagues were telling me that they were willing, they were ready to provide that kind of humanitarian aid, but so far nothing has happened. There were always those who said that we would be in conflict with the Sunni world sooner or later. I think this is, to me, a provocation. Many in the Arab world, and in Turkey, they do understand what our intentions are. There are those who disagree with that. But our position is clear. Our goal is to support the legitimate authorities, to prevent a disintegration of the Syrian statehood, otherwise this territory is going to be yet another Libya or worse. Or another Somalia. Secondly, our goal is to fight terrorism. And this is no less important to us. Just as I said, according to our data, 4,500 people from Russia and around 5,000 citizens from Central Asian countries—the former Soviet republics—are fighting there. And our task is to prevent them from coming home. Nonetheless, it is with respect that we treat the concerns of our partners from Turkey and from the Arab countries. What did it result in? First, at the final stage of the fight for liberating Aleppo, this stage didn’t end with hostilities. No, it ended with separating the forces. And we helped part of the armed opposition to evacuate from Aleppo. And we were the ones to facilitate this process. We were the ones to organize all of that. But everyone just made it look like they didn’t see what was happening. Secondly there were talks that once Aleppo was liberated, ethnic or religious cleansings would take place there. Do you know what decision I took? I decided to dispatch a battalion of Russia military police to Aleppo, from the Northern Caucasus, mostly from the Chechen Republic and a number of other republics in the Northern Caucasus. Incidentally, all of them are Sunni.
VP: And the local population gave them a very warm welcome. They see them as their protectors. Certainly we did that with the concern and with the support of President Assad. He said he was interested in fostering a dialogue between different religious groups. Do you know what it led to? I’m going to tell you something that no one is aware of so far, but probably they are going to learn that before your film appears. The representatives of the armed opposition in one of the suburbs of Aleppo asked us to increase the number of our military policemen. They want us to bring this number to a great number in the regions they control. A week ago I decided to dispatch another battalion of military police there. But this is not all there is to it. Together with our military police, a Mufti from the Chechen Republic has appeared there. He is also a Sunni. He talks to our military, to the local population. We’re not interested in adding fuel to this conflict. Quite the contrary, we are interested in fostering dialogue, so as to preserve the territorial integrity of this country which is a very complicated matter. I’m particularly concerned about what we are witnessing. We see some sort of a divide of different religious groups. People are moving from one part of Syria to another. These religious groups are isolating themselves and separating, and this is very dangerous because it might result in a split. But I’ve got to tell you that we are successful because we’ve got the direct support of the Turkish leadership, as well as the leadership of Iran. This is a very difficult matter and it’s not always easy to find consensus. But direct contacts are being upheld with the Iranian partners and the Turkish partners, and this is what gives us hope and that is why we achieve success. What you’ve said about Syria quieting down, that is true. Indeed, hostilities have all but ceased between the armed opposition and the armed forces of the government. But hostilities are still ongoing against Daesh, the Islamic State.
OS: What would you say is the result of the Russian military intervention—in a few words?
Media for the People! Rise Up Times needs your help to continue to bring you independent analysis and significant commentary about current issues. Learn more about Rise Up Times. People supported news.
VP: I can sum that up very easily. First, we’ve stabilized the legitimate authorities. Secondly, we have achieved a reconciliation and we’ve managed to bring to one negotiating table both the Armed opposition and the government. And we’ve managed to foster a dialogue in a trilateral format which engages both Turkey and Iran. We need the support of the United States as well as the support of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt. We’re going to tread very cautiously. So that each step secures what has been achieved at the previous step instead of undermining it.
OS: Again, what was the distance between Damascus and Moscow. You told me once it was kilometers . . .
VP: Well I never counted. I think 3,000. 2,000 to Sochi, another thousand to Istanbul. 3,500 or 4,000 kilometers.
OS: Okay. And one quick question. I mean, I definitely get the feeling from what you said that Mr. Erdogan in Turkey feels that the US CIA was involved in the coup d’état against him recently.
VP: Did he tell you that?
OS: No. He said things that hinted at it—in that direction.
VP: I don’t know anything about that. But I can see the rationale behind what he said. Mr. Gülen, whom he suspects of organizing this coup d’état, is living in Pennsylvania and he’s lived there for more than nine years.
OS: And Mr. Erdogan never said anything to you, he never whispered . . . ?
VP: No, he told me that he suspected Gülen and his organization, his movement, of organizing that coup d’état. He has never told me anything about the role of the United States. But I can see his logic—you can guess it. If indeed Mr. Gülen had taken part in this coup d’état attempt—of which I have no idea—it would be very hard to imagine that at least the intelligence services of the US would be unaware of what was happening. That’s the first thing. Secondly, the Air Force stationed at the Incirlik Air Base has been active in this coup d’état attempt. And that is exactly the air base where the main part of the American Air Force that is stationed in Turkey is located. We are a little bit concerned. And why is that? The thing is, tactical nuclear weapons are deployed in Turkey, US nuclear weapons. And when such dramatic events occur, the question arises as to what might happen to the nuclear warheads.
OS: Well, if the army is loyal to Erdogan, then I’m not sure. A lot of them are involved with the United States.
VP: Well, probably you know better than I do.
OS: Well, he rounded up a lot of military people.
VP: You know, Mr. Erdogan was one step from being assassinated. He moved from the hotel where he was staying. Some of his security officers were staying there. And one of the Special Forces, a commando from the armed forces came to him, there was a clash with his security officers and his security officers were killed. I think we can say that if Erdogan had stayed there than he would have been assassinated. These are just bare facts from which I infer no conclusions whatsoever. But this is what happened. I do not want either to analyze or give an assessment to what he did afterwards. But we know the historical role that the armed forces have been playing in Turkey. They’ve been the grantor of a secular avenue of development in the country. We’ve got this Golden Rule which we stick to—we never interfere within the domestic affairs of any country.
VP: No, never. It’s up to the people of the country.
OS: I believe you.
VP: You know, even earlier, sometimes half as a joke, half on a serious note, we were saying that the American Constitution was not perfect.
OS: The Electoral College.
VP: Yes, absolutely right. Because the elections are not that direct. There was this electoral college that you mentioned. But their response was always, “This is none of your business. We’re going to sort it out ourselves.” So we do not interfere, either within the domestic affairs of the US or any other country. We have not interfered in Turkey.
OS: How close were you to a war—the United States said to Syria you crossed the red line in 2013 and General Shoygu, your Defense Minister said the Syrians were about to launch a massive attack of 624 cruise missiles within 24 hours. And it probably would have ended the sovereignty of theSyrian state at that point, when Obama said they crossed a red line, and you were involved with that, in stopping that and in removing the gases, the chemical weapons from Syria. How close was it? And were you worried about a US strike on Damascus?
VP: Honestly, I don’t know—I think you’ve got to ask the Obama administration about that, about how close they were to the brink of war, to making that decision. Another decision finally was made, luckily.
OS: You were involved in it.
VP: Yes, I was, when the G20 Summit took place in St. Petersburg, President Obama and I, we talked about this topic. And we agreed to try to take steps to eliminate the remains of chemical weapons in Syria.
OS: You sound very casual. It doesn’t sound right. I mean, if Shoygu said 24 hours, you guys have to be worried about it. This is your ally.
VP: Well, it’s all about the subjunctive mood, so to speak. Be that as it may, both I and President Obama agreed to work together back then, and luckily our joint work resulted in success.
OS: Well, you make it sound casual, but weren’t you worried that your ally would disappear and maybe ISIS was going to get all the way to Damascus right then and there? Didn’t you see all the implications of this?