President Barack Obama said Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin stuck in the past and as a result the country has failed to modernize.
“I don’t want to psychoanalyze Mr. Putin. I will say that he has a foot very much in the Soviet past. That’s how he came of age. He ran the KGB. Those were his formative experiences,” Obama told BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
Obama said that even before oil prices declined the Russian economy was struggling.
“It is not an economy that’s built for the 21st century. Unfortunately, those forces for modernization inside of Russia, I think, have been sidelined. That’s bad for Russia and, over time, it’s bad for the United States, because if Russia is doing badly, the concern is that they revert to old expansionist ideas that really shouldn’t have any application in the 21st century,” Obama said.
However, Obama also reaffirmed his commitment to finding a diplomatic solution to the ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine, as well as working with Russia on other issues.
“I continue to hold out the prospect of Russia taking a diplomatic offering from what they’ve done in Ukraine. I think, to their credit, they’ve been able to compartmentalize and continue to work with us on issues like Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said in the interview.
The comments come after the White House said both presidents talked over the phone Tuesday afternoon. “If Russia continues its aggressive actions in Ukraine, including by sending troops, weapons and financing to support the separatists, the costs for Russia will rise,” Obama told Putin, according to the White House.
Leaders from France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine and separatist groups are expected to meet Wednesday morning in Minsk and hammer out proposals for a possible peace deal for Ukraine.
A spokesman for the Kremlin confirmed to CNN that Putin would fly to the summit in Minsk.