In an interview with NBC previewed on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that some of the people recently indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for disrupting the 2016 U.S. election might be — gasp — Jewish.
NBC anchor Megyn Kelly, who was criticized for being too timid in her questioning of Putin in an interview last year, was more direct this time around. She asked Putin about the 13 Russians who Mueller and his investigators say helped organize a wide-ranging conspiracy to foment political unrest in the U.S. and ultimately help Donald Trump get elected.
“Why have you decided the Russian authorities, myself included, gave anybody permission to do this?” Putin responded, turning the tables on Kelly, as he is wont to do, by reminding her that America has a habit of interfering in Russian elections.
Kelly asked Putin if his constituents should be concerned that he was unaware of the hacking. But Putin didn’t take the bait, continuing to insist that the state had nothing to do with it.
“There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state,” he said.
Later, he cast doubt on whether those who had been indicted actually met his definition of citizens.
“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”
Though Putin has allied himself with the deeply conservative Russian Orthodox Church, which has recently promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, hatred of Jews has generally not been a big part of his nationalist playbook. But apparently he’s fine with scapegoating the group, and other minorities, when it suits his political interests.
Several U.S. federal agencies have agreed that the election hacking was directed from the highest echelons of Russian government. But one prominent American who has yet to be convinced is President Trump, who has taken Putin’s word for his innocence, and not-at-all-suspiciously showered the despot with praise again and again.
Ahead of an upcoming election that will mostly be a formality, Putin has ramped up his aggressiveness against Western interests. At the beginning of the month, he unveiled plans for new “invincible” nuclear weapon that seemed straight out of the Cold War zenith.