Putin Says Gates ‘Badly Misled’ in Comments on Russia Democracy

Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister
Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister. Photographer: Jochen Eckel/Bloomberg

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dismissed U.S. criticism from leaked State Department memos, saying America should examine its own democratic institutions before questioning others.

Putin said in an interview with CNN’s Larry King last night that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had been “badly misled,” in his assessment of Russian democracy. He also said some U.S. presidents received fewer popular votes than their opponents, taking office after winning a majority in the Electoral College, where votes are allocated by state.

“When we are talking with our American friends and tell them there are systematic problems” in the U.S., “we can hear from them, ‘Don’t interfere in our affairs,’” Putin said. “To our colleagues I would also like to advise you, don’t interfere either with the sovereign choice of the Russian people.”

WikiLeaks.org this week released a diplomatic cable in which Gates was cited as saying “Russian democracy has disappeared, and the government was an oligarchy run by the security services.” Putin served as president for eight years before becoming prime minister in 2008, when legal limits prevented him from running for a third consecutive term.

Putin, 58, and his successor, Dmitry Medvedev, haven’t said which man will run for the presidency in 2012. “We’ll see,” Putin told King. “There is still quite some time before the elections take place.”

He said attempts to split his relationship with Medvedev were futile, saying his understanding with the president foresaw such actions back in 2008.

‘Aimed to Slander’

Such commentary is “aimed to slander one of us, to get under the skin, to provoke some steps which might destroy the productive interaction in running this country,” Putin said. “We’ll get used to it.”

Putin also said it would be “very dumb” for the U.S. to ignore its own interests by placing a missile-defense system near Russia’s borders, because it would necessitate his country to respond in kind, not an action Russia wants to take, Putin said. He reiterated Medvedev’s warning that Russia will have to arm itself against “new threats” if the U.S. and its European allies build the system without Russian participation.

“We have been told that you’ll do it in order to secure you against the, let’s say, Iranian nuclear threat,” Putin said. “But such a threat, as of now, doesn’t exist.”

Missile Shield

At the NATO summit in Lisbon last month, Russia offered to take part in a missile shield with the trans-Atlantic military alliance, though it insisted on being an equal partner.

Barack Obama in September 2009 canceled former President George W. Bush’s proposed missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of a more flexible solution that opened the door to revisit Russian proposals for a joint system.

Still, the U.S. deployed Patriot missile batteries and their crews to northern Poland in May for what the U.S. Army described as a two-year training mission. Russia’s Foreign Ministry said at the time that the deployment wouldn’t improve security or help build relations in the region.

The Wall Street Journal two days ago cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying Russia had moved short-range tactical nuclear weapons closer to the borders of NATO member states as recently as this spring.

General Nikolai Makarov, head of Russia’s general Staff, denied the report. “This is a fairy tale,” he told reporters in Moscow yesterday.

START Treaty

Obama has appealed for the Senate to ratify a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that he and Medvedev signed in April to improve security relations. The treaty has run into opposition in the upper house since Republicans won more seats in mid-term elections.

Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican and one of his party’s leading voices on nuclear-weapons policy, said on Nov. 16 that pressing business wouldn’t allow full consideration before year’s end of “the complex and unresolved issues related to START.”

The treaty limits each side’s strategic warheads to no more than 1,550, down from the 2,200 allowed previously, and sets a maximum of 800 land-, air- and sea-based launchers.

WikiLeaks, a nonprofit group that releases information the government wants to keep confidential, has begun releasing what it says are more than 250,000 U.S. State Department documents written from December 1966 to February 2010.

State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson earlier this week declined to confirm any information in the documents released by WikiLeaks, saying it was the agency’s policy not to comment on specific leaked materials.

Separately, Putin said he believes “a right mode of speech” must be chosen to deal with tensions on the Korea peninsula and that not all the responsibility for easing it is on China.

The U.S. is holding joint military exercises with Japan and South Korea this week after North Korea’s deadly artillery shelling of its southern neighbor last month. The tensions between the two Koreas threatened to escalate, with neither side, nor Japan willing to enter talks.

“Emotions will be shelved and dialogue will be started,” Putin said. “Russia is interested in the continuation of a dialogue” that existed prior to the recent tension. “We all need to do whatever it takes in order for this situation to be on track of normalcy.”

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