Since 2014, the European Union has introduced several rounds of anti-Russia sanctions, accusing Moscow of interfering in the Ukrainian crisis — a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied.
"I think this is a foolish and harmful decision," Putin told the newspaper.
"What are the restrictions for us? It is not the most difficult thing we are going through, but it is harmful for our economy in terms of access to foreign financial markets," the president added.
“Crimea is Not Borders and State Territories but Human Beings”
When asked what has already become a traditional question about Crimea, the president replied that for him, the issue of Crimea is not about borders and state territories, but the fate of people.
“So what did we do? We have not gone to war, we have not fired, not a single person was killed. Our soldiers have merely prevented the Ukrainian troops on Crimea from impeding the freedom of expression of the people. In the referendum – which was still decided to take place by the Crimea’s old parliament – the majority of citizens voted to belong to Russia. This is democracy, the people’s will.”
On Major Mistakes After the Collapse of the USSR
The Russian president said a number of "mistakes" committed by the US, Russia and NATO following the break-up of the Soviet Union has led to the current deterioration of relations between Moscow and the West, with NATO's expansion into eastern Europe one of the major damaging factors.
"We have done everything wrong," Putin said.
"From the beginning, we failed to overcome Europe's division. Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, but invisible walls were moved to the east of Europe. This has led to mutual misunderstandings and assignments of guilt. They are the cause of all crises ever since."
“After the demise of the Soviet Union, we had many problems of our own for which no one was responsible but ourselves: the economic downfall, the collapse of the welfare system, the separatism, and of course the terror attacks that shook our country. In this respect, we do not have to look for guilty parties abroad.”
“Russia Coordinates Moves in Syria With Both Assad's Army and the Opposition”
The Russian leader explained that Russia coordinates its actions in Syria with both the Syrian government-led forces and the opposition, when asked about Russia's air campaign in Syria.
Vladimir Putin denied that Russia’s military campaign in Syria is targeted not against terrorists, but against rebel forces.
"They are telling lies. Look, the videos that support this version [that Russia is hitting the wrong targets] appeared before our pilots even started to carry out strikes against terrorists. This can be corroborated. However, those who criticize us prefer to ignore it," Putin told the newspaper.
“Ankara Reaction After Downing Su-24 in Syria ‘Looks Humiliating’
"Instead of trying to provide us with an explanation for the war crime they committed, that is, for downing our fighter jet that was targeting terrorists, the Turkish government rushed to NATO headquarters seeking protection, which looks quite odd and, in my view, humiliating for Turkey," Putin told Germany's Bild newspaper.
The Russian leader added that this issue had nothing to do with Ankara’s NATO membership as nobody had attacked Turkey.
In response to Ankara's "stab in the back," as the incident has been described by Putin, Moscow imposed a number of economic measures on Turkey.
“Certain Powers Use Int'l Terrorism to Fight Against Russia”
"For us it was an obvious fact that the international terrorism was also used as a means of fighting against Russia, while everyone either turned a blind eye on that or provided support to terrorists — I refer to political, information, financial or in some cases even armed support to the actors fighting against the Russian state," Putin said.
On Expansion of NATO
The continued and growing presence of NATO is an issue of longstanding tension between Moscow and the West, with some critics calling for the military alliance to be scrapped.
“Back in 2007, many people criticized me for my talk at the Munich Security Conference. But what did I say there? I merely pointed out that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner had guaranteed that NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Wall. Many German politicians had also warned about such a step, for instance Egon Bahr. “
“Of course every state has the right to organize its security the way it deems appropriate. But the states that were already in NATO, the member states, could also have followed their own interests – and abstained from an expansion to the east.”
“To Be a Superpower is Far Too Expensive and Unnecessary”
When asked if Russia wants to be a superpower, the Russian leader replied that “we do not claim the role of a superpower for ourselves. That is far too expensive and unnecessary.”
“Merkel Sincere, Professional Person”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a sincere and professional person, and the level of trust between Germany and Russia is very high, the Russian President said.
However he added that rather than being an admirer, he “appreciate[s] her as a very professional and open person.”
It is rather premature to speak of granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Russia as only the Syrian people can determine his future, President Putin told the newspaper.
"You know, I think it is premature to discuss this issue. We have granted asylum to Mr Snowden, and it was more difficult than doing the same for Assad will ever be," Putin said.
"We should first let the Syrian people speak. And let me assure you that if everything goes the democratic way maybe Assad won't have to go anywhere," Putin stressed.