Putin's press conference took place Thursday, with Russian and foreign journalists asking the president dozens of questions about Moscow's foreign and domestic policy, including Putin's views on the state of Russian-US relations.
Sputnik: Vladimir Putin said during his press conference Donald Trump is unable to do as he pleases, whether it comes to amending relations with Russia, or his other pre-election pledges, because he is being controlled by the FBI. What do you make of this?
Szamuely: Putin realizes that Trump, and not only during the campaign, promised that he would devote himself to improving relations with Russia. Putin thinks that this is indeed what Trump wants to do. This wasn't simply rhetoric during the campaign, but something that reveals Trump's true intent. Trump just hasn't been able to do it. And he hasn't been able to do it largely because of the fictitious hoax of the Trump-Russia collusion stories. Any attempt by Trump toward improving relations with Russia is immediately greeted with cries of 'Ah this proves that there was collusion between Trump and the Russians!', and 'Trump is clearly an agent of the Russian president.'
Putin realizes that Trump's hands are now tied. It is significant that however much Putin criticizes [US policy], he has never blamed Trump himself for any of this, [whether it be] the sanctions passed by Congress, or the US government seizure of [Russian] diplomatic compounds.
Sputnik: Putin also pledged that Russia will not participate in any global arms race, informing journalists about Russia's $46 billion in defense spending, compared with the $700+ billion that the Pentagon is currently spending. What's your feeling with regard to that? The figures seem quite stacked.
Szamuely: That's exactly right, and despite those figures, if you come to the United States, you would think that the Russians were spending like mad and threatening the United States. In fact it's completely the opposite, and this is why US policy has been so dangerous. The US has massively increased defense spending, and Trump signed his new Defense Authorization Act, which is a huge increase in spending just from last year.
When you combine that with the belligerent rhetoric toward Russia that emanates from Washington, there's good reason for the Russians to be nervous about US intentions.
The other thing is, Putin reminded the audience that the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty some years ago, and that now it has effectively withdrawn from the INF Treaty, [the other of] the two key pillars of the arms control regime of the Cold War. Putin says that Russia has no intention of withdrawing from the INF Treaty, but of course if the United States continues with this policy of essentially just tearing up the INF Treaty, the Russians will have to respond.
And he said that the next to fall could be the START Treaty. Putin did express some alarm that these arms control agreements are just going into the wastepaper basket.
Sputnik: On Syria, Putin again warned against the US and the West against cooperation with rebel militants, saying that using them in the fight against Damascus was a dangerous policy. What is your take on the Syrian situation?
Szamuely: It was remarkable what he said about US attitudes toward terrorists. He reminded the audience that when the US sponsored the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it came back and hit the Americans on 9/11. This is what happens when you do these short-term opportunistic things of supporting terrorists for your own short-term ends. And he said this is what being done in Syria – that they are refusing to do anything toward ISIS [Daesh] because they still want to use ISIS and Al-Qaeda for their own short-term ends of hurting Assad. So yes, this was a remarkable thing – that for all their talk of the US global war on terror, this is far from the case. The United States does use these terrorists for its short-term ends. Even now it's doing exactly that.
The views and opinions expressed by George Szamuely are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.