- Oliver StoneAcademy Award-winning director and screenwriter. His four-part series The Putin Interviews is airing this week on Showtime.
The Senate is slated to vote today on whether to impose a spate of new sanctions against Russia over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. The vote comes only one day after the much-anticipated testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the Senate Intelligence Committee. For more, we speak to three-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone about his new TV special, “The Putin Interviews,” which is airing on Showtime this week. The series is based on more than 20 hours of interviews Stone conducted with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the past two years.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, at this pivotal moment in U.S.-Russia relations, we’re joined now by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone, one of Hollywood’s best-known directors. His films have included Platoon, JFK, Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July. Over the past two years, Stone conducted more than 20 hours of interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin, covering issues from NATO to the nuclear arms race, the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the 2016 U.S. election. Showtime is airing a four-part special this week called The Putin Interviews. This is an excerpt.
OLIVER STONE: But you do realize how powerful your answer could be. If you said subtly that you prefer X candidate, he would go like that tomorrow. And if you say you didn’t like Trump or something—right?—what would happen? He’d be—he’d win, right? You have that amount of power in the U.S.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Unlike many partners of ours, we never interfere with the domestic affairs of other countries. This is one of the principles we stick to in our work.
OLIVER STONE: Thank you, sir.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: My pleasure.
OLIVER STONE: We’ll see you tomorrow, talk about some heavier stuff.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you, sir. [translated] Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you, sir. All the best. See you tomorrow.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt from Oliver Stone’s new Showtime series The Putin Interviews. Oliver Stone is also releasing a companion book compiling the transcripts of his 20 hours of interviews with Vladimir Putin. Oliver Stone joins us here in studio for the rest of the hour.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!
OLIVER STONE: Thank you. Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us.
OLIVER STONE: Good to see you, Juan.
AMY GOODMAN: There is a lot to talk about here and a number of clips we want to play.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah. And—
AMY GOODMAN: But—
OLIVER STONE: Can I just say? That clip, by the way, is from before the election. It was shot on 2015. That was his attitude about the—and he said things before the election also, very polite and never anything bad-mouthing any of the candidates. He’s always been—and he made it very clear back then. I just want to—because we come back to see him after the election, in the fourth chapter.
AMY GOODMAN: And that’s very interesting. This series, the first two ran this week. They’ll continue to run.
OLIVER STONE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And then tonight the third, and tomorrow the fourth.
OLIVER STONE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s in that fourth hour where you really get into, because you’ve returned February 2017, just a few months ago.
OLIVER STONE: That’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s after the election. It’s after Donald Trump becomes president.
OLIVER STONE: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: And you really move in on asking him about whether the Russian government hacked the 2016 election. Talk about his response.
OLIVER STONE: Oh, you want to cut right to that part of it, because it has to do with Washington today. Believe me, we didn’t see this coming, and we never expected we’d have to go back for a fourth trip, because we all thought Ms. Clinton was going to win. So, I’m sure he did, too. I’m sure he did, too. I think he was as surprised as anybody, any one of us. But as he says in the fourth version, he says, “We’ll work with anybody. We will work with anybody. It’s not our policy to intervene, certainly not a country as big as America.”
And, you know, it’s not influenceable in that sense. I think money influences elections. You could say Mr. Koch, the Koch brothers, perhaps—you could say Sheldon Adelson, people like this, do add up. You could say all these lobbies add up. AIPAC adds up. But, you know, Russia’s influence—I was wrong. You see, when I looked at that clip, I was thinking—you know, I’m saying—I don’t think he has that kind of influence. I think I was putting him on a bit and saying—I’m encouraging him to take a position. That’s sort of—that’s what an interviewer does sometimes. You exaggerate. But I don’t think he could make a difference if he said he hated Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: But you get into that issue of the elections and the hacking of the election.
OLIVER STONE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Sure, all of the different forces—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —that you just described affect elections, but you drill down on this issue of did Putin, the Russian government, hack the elections.
OLIVER STONE: As I said, he denies it completely, I mean, without even—he thinks it’s a silly thing. It’s an internal American political struggle. And he has a point.
I also went into, extensively, if you remember, right after that, into cyberwarfare, because cyberwarfare is a new form of it. We talked about this when I was here for Snowden, in depth actually. Snowden revealed cyberwarfare to us. So much is happening on that front. And one thing he did express very strongly is, we have—the Russians have proposed a treaty, a cyber treaty, to the United States. It’s been in—on the desk for about a year now, and he has no response from the U.S. He would like one. I think we need one. And we can talk about that, too, if you want. It’s very dangerous, cyberwarfare, because of all the rumors and the easy—easy-to-mislead misinformation, fingerprints, thin—the thin evidence that’s presented. It’s very possible now, with the CIA and the—you know, Julian Assange, when he—the Vault 7 leaks a few weeks ago—you covered them, I believe—it was clear that a company like the CIA could in fact forge the footprints of any country onto any hack and make it look like they planted the malware.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you if you’ve been surprised by the level of animosity toward this project of yours by some of the media? And I saw the Colbert segment that was really an attempt to really go after you in an uncharacteristic way, even for Colbert. But because there’s a long history in the United States of journalists going—trying to get interviews. I think of Barbara Walters with Fidel Castro. I think of, going back, even Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —going behind the lines of Mao Zedong and providing positive assessments of what was going on in China. And Wilfred Burchett—Wilfred Burchett did many stories—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —behind the lines in the liberated areas of South Vietnam, interviewing the South Vietnamese leaders, because these journalists felt it was necessary for the American people to see the other side. So I’m wondering how—why this one is—this time around, they’ve been really blasting you.
OLIVER STONE: Well, this is—listen, you go back in American history—we did Untold History with you, too, and we talked about this bias against Russia since 1917. And we didn’t even recognize Red Russia until 1933 with Roosevelt. He was the first one to build any kind of—and he was the best—he believed in an alliance, a grand alliance, after the war, with Russia, the U.S., England and China. That was—and if he had lived a few more months, I think it would have been a completely different framework for the world. I think Harry Truman had a more limited view. We talked about this, too.
But Russia, the bias against Russia, they did it. It goes to Ian Fleming novels, to James Bond, the feeling that SMERSH is behind it, or—Mr. Putin has been characterized in a cartoonish way as a Dr. No figure. You don’t go there. And I’m surprised, because Americans should really, if they—they think of him as this threat to America. Our generals say they’re the number one existential threat to the United States. If you believe that, then you should know more about them and what—who their leader is and what they’re actually saying, because they don’t print that. I don’t see him speaking to American people in our language. I mean, he’s always interrupted with a dub, a bad dub, generally speaking, with a harsh voice, a football voice, or, sorry, a football coach’s voice. This is a chance to hear him in his own language. I think the interpreter is very good. He speaks softly, firmly, softly.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you don’t put a translator over him. You have—
OLIVER STONE: No, no.
AMY GOODMAN: You have subtitles, so that makes an enormous difference.
OLIVER STONE: I think there’s a harmony there. And I think, after—you know, I’m a filmmaker. I’m approaching it not a newsman. So I see it as a 4-hour project. And in those four hours, you will cover from 2000 all the way up to 2016—’17.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you—how did you end up doing this?
OLIVER STONE: By accident, kind of. I was doing the Snowden movie in Germany, and we were communicating a lot with Ed. He lived in Moscow at the time, and we were going there—still is, I’m sorry, not “at the time.” And we were going there, talking to him. And at one of those nine times I went over there, I met Mr. Putin for the first time. I knew Mr. Gorbachev and, you know, another world. I knew the old Russia, but I didn’t know Mr. Putin. And he clarified—I asked him about Snowden. And he was—as in the film, he clarified the Russian position on him.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s turn to another—a clip from The Putin Interviews, where you ask him about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, who was given asylum nearly two [sic] years ago in Russia.
OLIVER STONE: Let me ask you, I’m sure you must have—as an ex-KGB agent, you must have hated what Snowden did with every fiber of your being.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] No, not at all. Snowden is not a traitor. He didn’t betray the interests of his country, nor did he transfer any information to any other country which would have been pernicious to his own country or to his own people. The only thing Snowden does, he does publicly.
OLIVER STONE: Did you agree with what he did?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] No.
OLIVER STONE: Did you think the National Security Agency had gone too far in its eavesdropping?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Yes, certainly. In that matter, Snowden was right. But you asked me, and I gave you a direct answer. I think he shouldn’t have done it. If he didn’t like anything at his work, he should have simply resigned. But he went further. That’s his right. But since you are asking me whether it’s right or wrong, I think it’s wrong.
OLIVER STONE: So, he’s saying that he should not have whistleblown, and he should have resigned in principle, on the principle, like Mr. Putin did when he resigned from the KGB.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Yes, I think so. I had not given it thought, but I think yes. I resigned because I didn’t agree with the actions undertaken by the government.
OLIVER STONE: OK, so you do agree that the NSA went too far?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Yes.
OLIVER STONE: And how do you feel about Russian intelligence activities in their surveillance?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] I think they’re working quite well. Our intelligence services always conform to the law. That’s the first thing. And secondly, trying to spy on your allies, if you really consider them allies and not vassals, is just indecent, because it undermines trust. And it means that in the end it deals damage to your own national security.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was President Putin talking with you, Oliver, about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who’s actually been in Russia now for four years, not two, as I said earlier.
OLIVER STONE: Right, right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But I wanted to ask you—
AMY GOODMAN: And we should point out that he’s driving.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes. I wanted to say that, yeah. For those who are only listening on radio, the video is with him driving a car, and you, the passenger. Now, I have to assume that the security on the outside of the car, which the camera didn’t show, must have been fantastic—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —to be able to have the president of Russia driving a car down a street.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, people have noticed that, and they’ve asked me questions like “How come he doesn’t crash, if he—you know, how does he concentrate like this?” But he likes driving. He likes to be in charge this way. And what president do you see driving around the streets? It gets—he’s a judoka. He’s an athlete. He likes to get behind things, drive things, ski. He took up skating at the age of 62. He took up hockey, which is a rough sport. And we show you a hockey game. Very like—he likes competition. He likes the challenge. He was a master, apparently, at judo, still does it every morning. He’s like—he works out seven days a week.
It’s interesting, you know, what he says about KGB activity. And, you know, he talks about allies, and that was a big point of his. You know, you don’t go after allies. He makes it again in another chapter, that they don’t listen in on allies. It’s quite normal, he says, to have the U.S. and Russia going at it, and China, but never—don’t—and I think that was a shock, if you remember, when Snowden’s news came out, that we were doing this to Japan, that we were planting malware in Japan—we put that in the movie—that we were listening in on Angela Merkel or Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. It’s pretty shocking stuff.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But what about the issue of his repression of Russian society, of protesters, of journalists?
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what was your sense of his response to those questions?
OLIVER STONE: We go there. We go there—I mean, probably not to your satisfaction, because he feels differently. I mean, one of the arguments he points out is democracy has been only really working in Russia since 1992, when the federation started with Yeltsin. It was a very bumpy start, if you remember. The United States business crowd moved in, and a lot of privatization went the wrong way—a lot of theft, a lot of corruption. And Yeltsin had a very rocky second election in '96. His numbers were very low. It was the United States who supported Yeltsin, with an IMF loan and a lot of behind-the-scenes activity to get him in. And a lot of Russians don't—feel he did not win the ’96 election. So they had a rough start on democracy.
It was Putin that really actually stabilized the system, the society, and gave it this form that it has now, which we don’t like, and we’ve been criticizing it. But he argues very strongly that there’s laws in Russia, and there are—there’s evidence of it. There’s a Duma. There’s people who get elected. There is a system. There are other parties. It may not meet our satisfaction. But you can be heard, unless you’re calling for the overthrow of the state, you know, which is always—
AMY GOODMAN: Or if you’re a critical journalist, then you might be killed.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, well, we don’t know exactly what—as to evidences, we don’t have any on that. There was the famous case of Anna Politkovskaya. And, frankly, from what I’ve been told by people who know a lot more about it than I do, is, you know, her family knows—her family as well as her editor don’t believe that it was the administration that had anything to do with it. It was much more likely that it was Chechen terrorist leaders. She was writing very tough stuff about Chechnya.
AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of Edward Snowden, it’s interesting he says he does not agree with him. Yes, they’ve granted political asylum. And it’s important, just because it’s repeated so often the other way, to say that Edward Snowden did not choose to live in Russia. He had his passport yanked by the U.S. when he was flying from Hong Kong, only transiting through Russia, so ended up there. And then Putin granted him political asylum. But interesting that President Putin actually does not agree with what Snowden did, as a former KGB guy.
OLIVER STONE: He says that very clearly. He says he should have gone through channels, that he should have resigned. I don’t know that he understands fully our system and how difficult it is for a person to work inside that system and say anything. And, you know, in other words, Putin—I know that Mr. Snowden did it for conscience and for his own conscience. I think that’s one of the great stories. That’s why I made the movie.
AMY GOODMAN: And you’re talking about the feature film you did on Snowden—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, the feature film, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —as opposed to these—these four hours of interviews that are posting—on Putin interviews.
OLIVER STONE: Well, this is him. I’m not making judgments here, and I’m not really—I’m not arguing back. I’m not going to change his mind. What I’m going to do to—hopefully, is show his mind to people who are interested in knowing what we’re talking about, because he receives so much criticism here. You know, you have to balance it with something. You have to listen.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I thought one of the most fascinating parts in the interviews was the understanding of his perspective of how, when Russia came out—when the Soviet Union collapses, and the Gorbachev period and the Yeltsin period, that he felt that the predatory nature of the capitalism that first came into Russia was something that had to be opposed, and that, in essence, that he felt—that he basically told the capitalists, “Look, you guys are out of control. You know, the pension systems, the conditions of the people have gotten too—they cannot be sustained this way.” And so he attempted, essentially, to curb the most rapacious form of capitalism.
OLIVER STONE: Absolutely true. That’s why he’s popular, because he did it. He not only put Russian economy back on its feet, he got income back to the people. He was, in a sense, a populist dictator at that point, because—I wouldn’t even say dictator, just he was an authoritarian. But he got that economy going. And they’re thankful. Now, things change. It’s been 16 years, off and on. He’s been president three times, prime minister one time. But they really—they like his resilience. And they feel—even Mr. Gorbachev, who was very critical of him early on, says that he’s the man for now, because he—everyone in Russia understands the pressure the United States is bringing, and NATO is bringing, on the borders of Russia.
AMY GOODMAN: You have this conversation, right at that time after World War II, where he talks about—well, he refers to the United States as “our partners.”
OLIVER STONE: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And he says he thinks that the Soviets made a mistake in forming two—what does he say?—polar camps.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah. I disagree with him. I understand, but I was surprised he said that.
AMY GOODMAN: But he seems to be critical of communism.
OLIVER STONE: Yes, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And you also ask him, are you—
OLIVER STONE: I think he was more critical of it than I was. Yes, definitely. He wasn’t—
AMY GOODMAN: And he—and you say to him, “Are you the richest man in the world, as some people say?”
OLIVER STONE: Later, yeah, yeah. I think he thinks that’s a pretty silly question. I don’t—you know, let’s put it this way: He may have some money that I don’t know about. He may have been corrupt early on in some ways. Maybe he got—but I didn’t see evidence of it in the sense of his lifestyle or his thought process. He is a man who works 12 hours a day. And we had a long discussion about materialism. And he made it very clear that he lives by another standard. And I think it’s a devotion to Russia, the national interests of Russia. And I think he has a strong dose of spirituality in him, the Russian Eastern Church very important to him. He wasn’t—it wasn’t he who led it back into its popularity. It was the people who took it up again, because there was a void after communism.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in this clip from The Putin Interviews, Vladimir Putin—
OLIVER STONE: The church?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —talks about NATO. You mentioned NATO before.
OLIVER STONE: There’s a funny clip when I’m in the church, and I say, “Where do you pray?” And he says, “You don’t pray kneeling down in Russia.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to that clip.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Nowadays, NATO is a mere instrument of foreign policy of the U.S. It has no allies, it has only vassals. Once a country becomes a NATO member, it is hard to resist the pressures of the U.S. And all of the sudden any weapon system can be placed in this country—an anti-ballistic missile system, new military bases and, if need be, new offensive systems. And what are we supposed to do? In this case, we have to take countermeasures. We have to aim our missile systems at facilities that are threatening us. The situation becomes more tense.
Why are we so acutely responding to the expansion of NATO? Well, as a matter of fact, we understand the value, or lack thereof, and the threat of this organization. But what we’re concerned about is the following. We are concerned by the practice of how decisions are made. I know how decisions are taken there. I remember one of our last meetings with President Clinton in Moscow. During the meeting, I said, “We would consider an option that Russia might join NATO.” Clinton said, “Why not?” But the U.S. delegation got very nervous.
OLIVER STONE: Have you applied?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: NATO, and your summation of that?
OLIVER STONE: Thirteen countries have joined NATO since Clinton made this, I think, rash decision to expand it to the east. That was not the promise made by Baker and the senior Bush to Gorbachev. Gorbachev swears to this. That was not put on paper. This is one of the reasons that Putin is upset with Gorbachev, as a practical man, as a politician. It should have been on paper, but it wasn’t. So they see Gorbachev as acting out of weakness, and, as a result, the whole Soviet Union collapsed very quickly. And 25 million people, roughly, were left outside the old borders, without—with new countries, without the protection of the Soviet Union, their pensions and so forth not met. And then, of course, the internal system collapsed. So, it was an ugly time, and a second Chechen war broke out. You know, we talked about NATO, but NATO is a huge problem for them, not for us. And a lot of the people who are in NATO now are very anti-Russian, Eastern countries, and anything can happen. An accident like in Dr. Strangelove could happen very, very easily.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to get to his response to Dr. Strangelove in a minute.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: He even says he’d like to join NATO.
OLIVER STONE: Well, he was kind of joking, and he was—no, what was surprising about it was Clinton’s quick response: “Why not?” You know, that’s the way Clinton used to kind of act. And when the delegation heard that, their faces dropped. They didn’t want Russia in NATO, because NATO would have—they’d have a veto. And none of—and he makes the point that none of these countries in NATO have ever said no to the United States’ positions, never, which is, he says, vassals. They’re not allies. They’re vassals. It’s interesting.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of the things that came across to me was also the command of detail and the thought processes that he goes through when you’re asking questions. It’s clear, as you mention at one point, that he reads the actual reports, not summaries.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you compare him to President Obama, who did the same thing, that he never got his intelligence summaries. He actually read the actual reports to make up his own mind.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So there’s really a hands-on approach to his governance of the country.
OLIVER STONE: He’s a CEO who kicks the tires. He really works too hard. I was worried about his health, you know, 16 years of this. I said, “Why don’t you act more like Reagan and have some fun, eat jelly beans and smile more? People would appreciate it.” He understands the value of that, but it’s not his style.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break and then come back to more of The Putin Interviews. Our guest is the three-time Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter Oliver Stone. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Stress” by Justice. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let’s turn to another clip from The Putin Interviews, where the Russian president talks about how the Soviet Union entered the nuclear arms race.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] You remember how the nuclear project developed? When the United States created the nuclear bomb and the Soviet Union entered the race and started to actively develop the nuclear program. Russia had both Russian scientists working, foreign scientists, Germans primarily. But our intelligence also received a lot of information from the United States. Suffice it to remember the Rosenberg spouses, who were electrocuted. They didn’t acquire that information. They were just transferring that information. But who acquired it? The scientists themselves, those who developed the atomic bomb. Why did they do that? Because they understood the dangers. They let the genie out of the bottle. And now the genie cannot be put back. And this international team of scientists, I think they were more intelligent than the politicians. They provided this information to the Soviet Union of their own volition to restore the nuclear balance in the world. And what are we doing right now? We’re trying to destroy this balance. And that’s a great mistake.
OLIVER STONE: So stop referring to them as partners, “our partners.” You’ve said that too much.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] But the dialogue has to be pursued further.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oliver Stone, his views on the nuclear arms race?
OLIVER STONE: He’s a resilient negotiator. He comes back. He doesn’t take no. He always talks and tries to keep it open. He’s worried. I saw him more wary than ever. Listen, this thing is dangerous, because we put ABMs in Poland and Romania. You know that. It’s a stated fact. ABMs are very dangerous. They can be shifted into offensive weapons overnight. They won’t know—the Russians won’t know what’s in the air, if it’s offensive or defensive. And they’re very close. So the time—it’s not like Dr. Strangelove, where you have a little more time. In that movie, you had an hour or two hours or whatever it was. Now you’re down to 15 minutes. So there’s much more chance of an accident.
The problem is with parity and America committing again, under Obama, to another trillion-dollar program to remodernize all our nuclear weapons. It’s a hopeless race, because you’re going to—either we’re going to—the Russian economy is not going to be able to keep up. They have—they spend one-tenth of our budget on military. And what’s going to happen if we keep spending and blowing them out? We have a—we want first-strike superiority. I believe we may have it. And when we have it, what are we going to do with it? With people like Mattis and the people in the Defense Department, you have to worry.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to your most recent interview with Vladimir Putin in February, so this is when Donald Trump is president, when you asked him about Senator John McCain, a well-known fierce critic of Vladimir Putin.
OLIVER STONE: And it seems we have Senator McCain, for example, today or yesterday, was proposing a veto, a Senate veto, of any lifting of sanctions from Trump, in advance.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] You know, unfortunately, there are many senators like that in the United States.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Putin is a killer. There is no moral equivalent between the United States and Putin’s Russia. I repeat, there is no moral equivalent between that butcher and thug and KGB colonel and the United States of America, the country that Ronald Reagan used to call a shining city on a hill.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Well, honestly, I like Senator McCain, to a certain extent. And I’m not joking. I like him because of his patriotism. And I can relate to his consistency in fighting for the interests of his own country. You know, in ancient Rome there was Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, who always finished all of his speeches using the same words: “Carthage must be destroyed!”
OLIVER STONE: “Carthage must be destroyed!”
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] People with such convictions, like the senator you mentioned, they still live in the old world, and they’re reluctant to look into the future. They are unwilling to recognize how fast the world is changing. They do not see the real threat, and they cannot leave behind the past, which is always dragging them back.
On the other hand, we’ve been supporting the U.S. fight for independence. We were allies during World War I and War War II. Right now there are common threats we’re both facing, like international terrorism. We’ve got to fight poverty across the world, the environmental deterioration, which is a real threat to all humanity. After all, we’ve piled up so many nuclear weapons that it has become a threat to the whole world, as well. And it would be good for us to give it some thought. There are many issues to address.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can respond to his response to McCain? Also, you actually are more critical of Putin when you’re questioning him than here? I mean, you drill down a lot—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —whether you were talking about the Russian hacking of the elections, which, by the way, just recently, Putin said, talking about Russian hackers may have—having to play a role, he suggested that that may well have been the case. And it’s not just about hacking or getting into the spaces. A lot of countries do it—
OLIVER STONE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —and especially the United States, as well. It’s about weaponizing that and releasing that information. But you were quite critical when you were actually speaking to him.
OLIVER STONE: I was trying. You know, it’s—I am digging. So people—there are things people say. You know, when you put a camera on somebody for four hours, there is a certain behavior, the eyes. There’s a feeling about the person you get. You can’t get that from reading the text. So, I think there’s great value in a camera and the body language. His body language is fascinating, because it’s not very overt. You don’t see the Castro mannerisms or the Chávez ones, but you see little things.
AMY GOODMAN: Both of whom you’ve interviewed.
OLIVER STONE: And his—yeah—and his eyes are very half-Asiatic. You know, they’re almost—they’re Russian eyes. But you see—I know the man much better after spending time watching him. I have to say, he likes patriotism. He’s certainly a nationalist in that way, in the interest of Russia, not bellicose, but a wounded nationalism. He feels that patriotism is important in Russia, the idea of Russia, not a return to the old empire, but a continuation of a new empire that’s capitalist with a market economy that would work in Europe.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s get to Putin discussing Fidel Castro, assassination attempts and his own personal security.
OLIVER STONE: Sure.
OLIVER STONE: And in 2012, you run for president, and you win by 63 percent?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: Yeah, right.
OLIVER STONE: Three times president, five assassination attempts, I’m told—not as much as Castro, who I’ve interviewed. I think he must have had 50. But there’s a legitimate five I’ve heard about.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Yes, I talked with Castro about that. And he said to me, “Do you know why I’m still alive?” And I asked him, “Why?” “Because I was always the one to deal with my security personally.” I do my job, and the security officers do theirs. And they are still performing quite successfully.
OLIVER STONE: In other words, you trust your security, and they’ve done a great job.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] I trust them.
OLIVER STONE: Because always the first mode of assassination, you try to get inside the security of the—of the presidency.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] I know that. Do you know what they say among the Russian people? They say that those who are destined to be hanged are not going to drown.
OLIVER STONE: What is your fate, sir? Have you—do you know?
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] Only God knows our destiny—yours and mine.
OLIVER STONE: To die in bed maybe.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] One day this is going to happen to each and every one of us. The question is what we will have accomplished by then in this transient world and whether we’ll have enjoyed our life.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Putin philosophizing about life and death as a leader. Your sense of how he approaches the possibility of possible assassination?
OLIVER STONE: Yeah. Well, I think he has a very Russian philosophical view. I was kidding him about Dostoevsky. But, you know, when you’ve been the leader of a—vilified like you have, and you have Chechen terrorists trying to kill you, and, you know, Syrians now, it’s not easy to run this whole thing. Every day, he doesn’t know what’s going to happen. The United States may do something again very provocative.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, he, like the U.S., is also killing Syrians. I think the U.S., now, -led coalition has surpassed Russia, but they have both been, to say the least, complicit.
OLIVER STONE: Well, I don’t want to get off topic, but, basically, you know, the bombing, the Russian bombing, on the roads against the trucks really destroyed the foundation of the ISIS empire, which is money and oil, shipping through Turkey. He got to the base. Obama bombed for what? Three, four years, didn’t achieve anything. He talks about running a hundred sorties a day. The Russians were intense. It seemed to stop the flow, the momentum. As to terrorism—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
OLIVER STONE: —you know his feelings, because he comes from a background where there’s been a lot of it in Russia.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there.
OLIVER STONE: Yeah, OK.
AMY GOODMAN: But we’re going to do a post-show, and we’ll put it online at democracynow.org. Oliver Stone, three-time Academy Award-winning director and screenwriter.