Putin: It would be nice for Russia if NATO were 'falling apart'

  • Vladimir Putin says that it would help Russia if NATO were "falling apart"
  • He says he does not see the alliance crumbling yet
  • President Donald Trump alarmed some allies at a NATO summit last week

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that a collapse of the NATO alliance would be a good thing for Moscow, but he doesn't see the 28-member bloc crumbling just yet.

"Well, in a sense that maybe, they should completely be falling apart, that will help," Putin said at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in an interview with NBC News' Megyn Kelly, according to a live translation. "But we don't see that falling apart just yet."

NATO was founded in 1949 as a check on the Soviet Union. In a summit last week, U.S. President Donald Trump alarmed U.S. allies by reprimanding them about their military spending and failing to endorse NATO's mutual defense clause.

Former diplomats and others saw Trump's actions as a potential boon to Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, typically a careful speaker, said at a campaign event that the "times in which we could rely fully on others" — meaning the United States — are "somewhat over."

Putin, who was a KGB agent in the days of the Soviet Union, on Friday questioned NATO's continuing purpose. He added that European countries don't need to boost their military spending "if you're not intending to attack anybody."

Russian leader condemns sanctions

Putin on Friday claimed that sanctions against his country violated international norms. He argued that Russia's policy did not lead to those sanctions — a statement that would seem to deny the war that Russia pressed against Ukraine starting in 2014. He blamed American policy for the sanctions instead.

The Kremlin has struggled to stay solvent since the end of 2014, when its economy was crushed by a combination of diving oil prices and tough sanctions imposed by Europe and U.S. President Barack Obama. The West punished Moscow for aggression against Ukraine and its annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks on June 2, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Valery Sharifulin | TASS | Getty Images
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks on June 2, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian economy shrank by 0.6 percent last year, and fell by 3.7 percent the year before that, according to the World Bank.

A visibly irritated Putin on Friday also denied reports that the Trump team had moved to lift the sanctions in place against Russia.

"This hysteria" about Trump and Russia "never seems to stop," Putin said, asking if a "pill" existed to stop the hysteria.

Putin contended that there were "no agreements whatsoever" to lift sanctions.

The FBI, CIA and NSA concluded in a January report that Putin's regime used hackers, Kremlin agencies and paid online "trolls" to undermine the U.S. election and help Trump win. Congress and the FBI are investigating that alleged effort and possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The U.S. president doesn't accept the conclusions of his intelligence apparatus. This week he dismissed the ongoing security investigation as "a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election."

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