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At G20, Putin leads attack on western liberalism


AFP Osaka
Russian President Vladimir Putin has used a global summit founded on liberal ideas to attack them in a demonstration of Moscow's apparent confidence amid international discord.
Kicked out of the G-20's more exclusive cousin G-8 in 2014 for annexing Crimea, Putin is now not the only one defending illiberal views on issues ranging from sexuality to immigration, even winning a vague endorsement from US counterpart Donald Trump.
"The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interests of the overwhelming majority of the population," Putin told the Financial Times in an interview ahead of the summit.
He criticised Germany for welcoming immigrants, saying multiculturalism was letting immigrants "kill, plunder, rape" without punishment -- and was understanding to Trump's idea of building a wall on the Mexican border.
On Saturday, he repeated that western liberal policies on sexuality and gender identity were being forced on people, often children, and that parents who opposed this were "often jailed." "Overreach" by proponents of liberalism is what caused protests in Europe and Trump's surprise election, Putin said.
Putin's views, undiplomatically expressed in a language usually reserved for his domestic working class constituency rather than global leaders, touched a few nerves in Osaka and beyond.
"What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs, even if sometimes they may seem effective," EU President Donald Tusk said. Elton John accused Putin of hypocrisy: while the Russian leader denied violating rights of LGBT community, John's recent film Rocketman was heavily censored in the country to cut out all scenes of gay intimacy.
French President Emmanuel Macron also countered, saying: "I am convinced that, in a world full of uncertainty, liberal democracies still have a lot to offer." But Trump, asked if he agreed with Putin, said the Russian leader "sees what's going on", before adding that US cities San Francisco and Los Angeles are "sad" because they are run by an "extraordinary group of liberal people."

A political veteran first elected president in 2000, Putin had initially adhered to liberal ideas, but his advisers from those days are some of his biggest critics now.
Since then, he has punished opposition, silenced media and sided with most Russians in criticising the liberal economic policies of predecessor Boris Yeltsin. Criticism followed by sanctions from the West was met with increasingly anti-Western policies, while lobbying of the Russian Orthodox Church has increased in recent years, resulting in conservative laws.
Opposition politicians point out that pro-Kremlin figures or media figures who uphold Putin's conservative, anti-Western rhetoric often have mansions in Europe, while their children attend Western schools, suggesting that the traditionalist and patriotic fervour is just an act.
But Putin's public lashing of western liberalism could be a bid to unite right-wing or conservative forces that oppose liberal values, analyst Vladimir Frolov said. "It's a bid for a crusade against liberalism," he told Dozhd television channel. "In the West, they have gotten used to Vladimir Putin in his new role as leader of the right, and this gives him confidence and some independence.

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First Published: Jun 29 2019 | 10:05 PM IST

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