Bloomberg Politics has a big get — an interview with Vladimir Putin on the accusations that Russia has dirt on Donald Trump. Putin called the allegations “obvious fabrications” circulated by people “worse than prostitutes because they don’t have any moral boundaries at all.”
This is exactly what you’d expect an autocrat with disturbing similarities to a real-life Bond villain to say. If Putin had a tape of the president-elect cavorting with Russian prostitutes — one of the most salacious accusations in the unsubstantiated dossier about Trump prepared by a former British spy and controversially published by BuzzFeed last week — confirming its existence publicly would ruin its usefulness as blackmail material.
But the interview gets really crazy at the end, when Putin starts talking about the high quality of Russian sex workers. I’m not making any of this up — here’s the full quote:
[Trump is] a grown man, and secondly he’s someone who has been involved with beauty contests for many years and has met the most beautiful women in the world. I find it hard to believe that he rushed to some hotel to meet girls of loose morals, although ours are undoubtedly the best in the world.
“Ours are undoubtedly the best in the world.” Think on that for a moment.
One reaction, which my colleague Emily Crockett said upon seeing the quote, is that it’s incredibly Trumpy. Bragging about the top-notch abilities of your country’s prostitutes is exactly the kind of the thing that Trump would do, in the same fashion that he not-so-subtly bragged about the size of his penis during a Republican primary debate. (“I guarantee you there’s no problem.”)
On another level, though, it’s a distinctly Putin kind of comment. Under Putin, the Russian government has gotten exceptionally good at what I’ve called “geopolitical trolling:” using traditional tools of state, like military assets and state-run media, to frustrate and get a rise out of his opponents. At home, Putin has cultivated a kind of macho, hyper-masculine cult of personality — a sense that he’s the strongman Russia needs, especially compared to what he derides as the effeminate (or female) leaders of the West.
This quote plays perfectly into both moves. He’s irritating Westerners who will find this comment scandalous, and also connecting with his fans back in Russia.
“He knows exactly how you see him and he enjoys playing the part very much,” David Klion, a freelance journalist who focuses on Russia, tweeted after reading the interview. “He's kind of like if Trump had self-awareness.”
As ridiculous as this quote appears, then, it actually does fit with Putin’s broader approach to leadership. But let’s not let analysis get in the way of pure shock: This is a real thing that a real leader of a real great power said.