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President Vladimir Putin appeared to be channeling the stereotype of Russia’s uneducated working classes this week when he mocked and patronized an experienced American business journalist. Unleashing his inner gopnik during an on-stage interview, he claimed she must be too “beautiful” to understand his complex argument.
The exchange took place Wednesday at a Russian Energy Week panel in Moscow moderated by CNBC journalist Hadley Gamble. The reporter had pressed Putin on reports of Russia withholding gas supplies to Europe to drive up prices, and after the Russian leader dismissed the claim, she asked how Moscow could convince its European partners that it’s a reliable gas supplier in light of such reports.
“A beautiful woman, pretty. I tell her one thing, and she says something completely different. As if she didn’t hear what I said,” Putin said, turning to the male members of the audience.
His chauvinistic joke came as Kremlin-owned media outlets covering Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland’s visit to Russia went into overdrive to mock her as just a token female in government, lamenting the “advancement of femininity” in the West.
Clearly those out-dated sentiments are not so alien to Putin himself.
“I will repeat it for you once again,” Putin said, before insisting that Moscow has actually increased its gas supplies to Europe and that there is “nothing to support [the idea] that we use energy as a kind of weapon.”
“Did I really say something so hard to understand?” he asked.
He went on to lash out at European leaders for suggesting Moscow could be using energy as a weapon, calling them “out of their minds” for voicing such “complete nonsense.”
And while he called it “politically motivated blather” to suggest the Kremlin might take advantage of soaring gas prices to get German regulators to approve the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, he said such an approval would “significantly relieve tensions on the energy market.”
He later noted that it was “entirely possible” gas prices could soon reach $100 a barrel.
In a separate interview with Gamble on the sidelines of the event, Putin appeared to react defensively to a question about whether he’s given any thought to potential successors.
“I prefer not to answer such questions, this is my traditional response,” said Putin, 69. He went on to note that “the situation allows me to run for another 6 years but I haven’t taken a decision in this regard.”
According to a Kremlin transcript, the interview concluded with him taking a jab at “the citizen” who many saw as his single biggest political rival until he was thrown behind bars in a politically motivated case.
“What about Mr. [Alexei] Navalny?” Gamble asked the Russian president. “Are you interested in improving his quality of life?”
“The citizen that you’ve mentioned is now in prison,” he said.
Acknowledging that conditions in Russian prisons are “not the best,” Putin said “he’s not alone.”
“There are other people who also violated Russian laws, and we don’t intend to put them in any exclusive conditions, including those who use political activity as a cover.”