Putin on successor: Ready to support critic if he is true to Russia

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to present the Russian Hero of Labour gold medals and national awards at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin has told U.S. television network NBC that, when asked about plans for a successor, he is ready to support someone who is faithful to the country even if he is critical of the president.

"If I see an individual, even if he is critical of some of my activities, but I see that the individual...is faithful to the country..., whatever his attitude towards me is, I would do everything to support such people," the Kremlin website quoted Putin as saying.

Putin has dominated Russian politics since 2000. In April he signed a law that could keep him in office in the Kremlin until 2036, when he would be 83, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms once his current stint ends in 2024.

Putin gave an interview to NBC ahead of his first meeting with Joe Biden as U.S. president in Geneva this week, at a time of the worst tensions in the relationship between Russia and the United States since the Cold War era.

"President Biden is fundamentally different from (former U.S. President Donald) Trump, because he is a career man, he has spent almost his entire adulthood in politics," Putin said, according to an interview transcript released by the Kremlin.

"My great hope is that...there wouldn't be any impulsive moves from the (current) president, that we will stick to certain rules of communication, we will be able to agree on something," Putin added.

The NBC TV crew had to quarantine for two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic before they could meet Putin, journalist Keir Simmons told the Russian leader during the interview.

Biden, who called Putin "a killer" in March, said on Sunday some of Russia's activities contradict international norms. Washington said Russian authorities or Russian hacking groups were behind recent cyber attacks on companies working in the United States.

Asked if Russia was waging a cyber war against the United States, Putin replied: "Where is the proof? I can give an answer to such unproven accusations: You can complain to the International League of Sexual Reforms. Are you okay with that?"

Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is expected to be a matter of dispute at the Putin-Biden summit.

Putin again avoided referring to the opposition leader by name and gave no direct answer to a question about whether he could promise that Navalny would leave prison alive.

"I proceed from the premise that the person that you have mentioned, the same kind of measures will apply to that person, not in any way worse than those applied to anybody else who happens to be in prison," Putin said.

(Reporting by Maria TsvetkovaEditing by Mark Heinrich)

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