By Madeline Roache
June 28, 2019

The liberal ideology that has underpinned Western democracy for decades is “obsolete,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with the Financial Times published Friday.

Speaking to the FT on the eve of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, during which world leaders will discuss trade, security and other matters, Putin said “the liberal idea” had “outlived its purpose” and “come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population.”

Putin, 66, has been Russia’s de facto leader for almost 20 years and has trumpeted the rise of nationalist populism. He has been accused of using financial aid and social media to support populist movements abroad, including during the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections and the recent European Parliament elections, which Putin has vehemently denied.

Putin on U.S. foreign relations

On the topic of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Putin said the situation has become “explosive.” He attributed the problem to American unilateralism and the lack of rules underpinning world order.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalated after Iranian forces shot down a U.S. drone on June 20. Relations between the countries have been deteriorating since Trump decided to withdraw from an international accord that curbed Tehran’s nuclear program.

Turning to Russia’s direct relations with the U.S., Putin said he was concerned about the threat of a renewed nuclear arms race. “The cold war was a bad thing … but there were at least some rules that all participants in international communication more or less adhered to or tried to follow,” Putin said. “Now, it seems that there are no rules at all.”

Putin on the global refugee crisis

Putin took aim at Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s 2015 policy to admit more than one million refugees to Germany, mainly from war-torn Syria, describing it as a “cardinal mistake.” Meanwhile he praised U.S. President Donald Trump for trying to stop migration and drug trafficking from Mexico.

Merkel’s decision “presupposes that nothing needs to be done. That migrants can kill, plunder and rape with impunity because their rights as migrants have to be protected,” said Putin. “Every crime must have its punishment. The liberal idea has become obsolete,” he added.

Others say Putin’s words are dangerous. Brian Dooley, Senior Advisor at Human Rights First, a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization, says that “Putin and Trump are in lockstep in their demonization of migrants, scapegoating refugees with lies. These smears are bad enough but they’ll also encourage others and make this sort of hateful speech seem mainstream.”

Mohammed Ateek, a Syrian academic researcher, who moved to London from Syria in 2013, says Putin is trying to “normalize the narrative of closed borders.” He tells TIME that “calling for homogenous communities and refusing multiculturalism is in the heart of [Putin’s] dangerous policies.” Ateek also argues that Putin’s actions in Syria have contributed to Europe’s refugee crisis — Moscow has been militarily involved in Syria war since September 2015, and in 2017 said would permanently station troops there. “Russia’s actions have led hundreds of thousands of Syrians dead and millions fleeing the country. Now, he’s calling these displaced people ‘rapists and murderers’ and encouraging countries to shut their borders in front of them,” says Ateek.

Putin on LGBTQ rights

Putin told the Financial Times that liberal governments have “pursued a mindless multiculturalism” by embracing sexual diversity, among other things. Echoing views expressed by other right-wing populists, such as Poland’s Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Putin said “[LGBTQ persons] must not be allowed to overshadow the culture, traditions and traditional family values of millions of people making up the core population.”

With regards to Russia’s own LGBTQ rights record, Putin told the newspaper that “we have no problem with LGBTQ persons. God forbid, let them live as they wish … But some things do appear excessive to us. They claim now that children can play five or six gender roles.”

But given how LGBTQ people are treated in Russia, such claims “come across as hypocritical,” Tanya Lokshina, Europe and Central Asia associate director at Human Rights Watch, tells TIME. In Russia, LGBTQ people cannot “live as they wish,” she says. “They have long faced threats, bullying, abuse inside their families, and discrimination.”

In 2013, Russia introduced a controversial “anti-gay propaganda law” that bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” Lokshina says the law, which is officially titled the law “aimed at protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values,” has a “stifling effect on access to affirming education and support services, with harmful consequences for LGBT youth.”

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, lashed out at Putin’s comments as well. “What I find really obsolete is authoritarianism, personality cults and the rule of oligarchs,” he told reporters on Friday. Tusk added that whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that “freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete.”

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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