US President Donald Trump (R) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (R) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:59
Trump to Putin: Don't meddle in the election
U.S. Marines conduct an operation to clear a village of Taliban fighters in July 2009 in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
U.S. Marines conduct an operation to clear a village of Taliban fighters in July 2009 in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan.
Now playing
03:19
Biden to announce Afghanistan withdrawal by September 11
roger wicker
CNN
roger wicker
Now playing
04:52
Sen. Wicker on Biden's infrastructure plan: Not ruling out tax hike
Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) arrives for a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing with members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee on Capitol Hill on December 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) arrives for a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing with members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee on Capitol Hill on December 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Now playing
03:02
Sources say Gaetz was denied meeting with Trump
CNN
Now playing
02:58
Avlon: This shows that crazy has a constituency
CNN
Now playing
07:27
CNN anchor pushes back on Texas state lawmaker's defense of voting bill
CNN
Now playing
01:12
Tapper asks Buttigieg for infrastructure plan timeline
Now playing
02:48
GOP governor calls Trump's RNC remarks 'divisive'
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018:  The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
SCOTUS blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities
rep jim clyburn georgia voting law jim crow sot sotu vpx_00000000.png
rep jim clyburn georgia voting law jim crow sot sotu vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
02:13
Rep. Clyburn blasts GA voting law: It's the 'new Jim Crow'
Joe Manchin
CNN
Joe Manchin
Now playing
02:03
'I never thought in my life ...' Why Manchin won't walk away from bipartisanship
Gaetz speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Rayburn House Office Building February 27, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Gaetz speaks to members of the media outside the hearing Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies at before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform at Rayburn House Office Building February 27, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
Now playing
06:11
'Bombastic, antagonistic, unapologetic': A look at Gaetz's political career
Former House Speaker John Boehner attends a ceremony to unveil a portrait of himself on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 in Washington.
Michael A. McCoy/AP
Former House Speaker John Boehner attends a ceremony to unveil a portrait of himself on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019 in Washington.
Now playing
02:42
Boehner says Republican colleague held 10-inch knife to his throat outside House floor
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP
President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaks about gun violence prevention in the Rose Garden at the White House, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Washington.
Now playing
02:05
Biden calls for ban on assault weapons
CNN
Now playing
02:22
Biden: High-speed internet is infrastructure
AFP/Getty Images
Now playing
03:24
Donald Trump breaks his silence on Matt Gaetz
(CNN) —  

Russian President Vladimir Putin set the tone for debate at the G20 meeting in Osaka during a sit-down interview with the Financial Times by making a provocative point: Western liberalism, he said, had run its course.

“There is also the so-called liberal idea, which has outlived its purpose,” he said in a wide-ranging discussion of global affairs. “Our Western partners have admitted that some elements of the liberal idea, such as multiculturalism, are no longer tenable.”

Putin, it seemed, was channeling US President Donald Trump’s former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as he expounded on the surge in populist movements in Europe and the unexpected rise of Trump, whom he met on the sidelines of the summit Friday.

“What is happening in the West?” he said. “What is the reason for the Trump phenomenon, as you said, in the US? What is happening in Europe as well? The ruling elites have broken away from the people. The obvious problem is the gap between the interests of the elites and the overwhelming majority of the people.”

Leave aside for the moment that Putin’s Russia is actually a diverse, multicultural state with substantial Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist communities: Putin’s disdain for liberalism touched a nerve. He seemed to be suggesting ahead of a meeting of world leaders that the forces of autocracy and populism were on the ascent.

“I strongly disagree with President Putin that liberalism is obsolete,” said European Council President Donald Tusk, on Twitter. “What I find really obsolete are authoritarianism, personality cults, the rule of oligarchs.”

That was an awkward point for Tusk to make, perhaps, while sharing a stage at the G20 with Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. But Putin certainly has used the G20 meetings as highly visible forum to present himself – and his brand of managed democracy – as occupying an equal place with Western democracies.

How quickly things change

Back in 2014, Putin was a pariah on the world stage following Russia’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. Putin left the November 2014 G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, after a scolding by other world leaders.

Nearly five years later, Putin seems to sense an opening. Earlier this week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a resolution making it possible for Russia to return to the body after it was stripped of its voting rights in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian state media went into overdrive, casting the vote as a major crack in the resolve of the West, which introduced economic sanctions on Moscow over Crimea and Ukraine.

Those sanctions now appear baked in to the Russian economy, and Putin seems to be counting for a more sympathetic audience in Europe – or at least in Britain.

At the G20, UK Prime Minister Theresa May confronted Putin, telling the Kremlin that Britain wants to see the people who carried out the Salisbury nerve-agent attack last year brought to justice, and saying Russia must stop “irresponsible and destabilizing activity,” Downing Street told CNN.

But by granting an interview to the FT, the UK’s top business paper, the Kremlin may have been seeking a different audience: the next occupant of Downing Street.

“This spy story, as we say, it is not worth five kopecks,” he said, referring to the Salisbury poisonings. “Or even five pounds, for that matter.”

But whether other leaders buy that line, or Putin’s obituary for liberalism, is a different matter.