In a wide-ranging interview with the Financial Times published late on Thursday, Putin trumpeted the rise of populist movements in Europe and the United States and said Russia’s Western partners had “admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable”.
“The so-called liberal idea … has outlived its purpose,” Putin said. “It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”
The Russian president heaped praise on his American counterpart, Donald Trump, however, calling him a “talented person” before lauding the US leader for his efforts to stem the number of migrants entering the country from neighbouring Mexico.
Trump has been dogged throughout his time in office by allegations of suspicious ties to Russia, including concerns that Moscow sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to benefit the US leader.
Both Trump and Putin have repeatedly denied colluding with one another, while a major probe led by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller found there was no evidence of a joint plot concerning the ballot, despite concluding that there was an organised Russian campaign to influence the vote.
The Russian leader’s comments in Moscow came hours before world leaders – including Putin, Merkel and Trump – begun the G20 meet in Osaka on Friday morning.
Speaking at the summit, European Union President Donald Tusk blasted the 66-year-old leader’s choice of words.
Tusk told reporters that such comments suggest a belief that “freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete”.
“We are here as Europeans also to firmly and univocally defend and promote liberal democracy,” he said in a statement. “What I find really obsolete are – authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs. Even if sometimes they may seem effective.”
Tusk’s feisty comments fitted the tone of this year’s G20 meeting, with leaders present expected to clash over trade, foreign policy and climate change.
But host Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, appealed for unity among bickering world leaders at the start of Japan’s new era of “Reiwa”, or “beautiful harmony”.
“With your help, I hope we will realise a beautiful harmony in Osaka … rather than highlight our confrontations, let us seek out what unites us,” said Abe as he opened the talks.