Putin is ‘extremely canny,’ difficult to draw out – Austrian TV host on his ‘toughest interview’
“It was definitely the toughest interview that I’ve ever done,” Armin Wolf of Austria’s ORF TV channel told Politico days after talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is “an extremely canny conversationalist who does a few things that make life difficult for the interviewer,” Wolf said, adding that Putin speaks expansively and touches upon a lot of detail.
During interviews, Putin employs various tactics such as responding to questions with his own questions, he said. The Russian leader, who Wolf called “a world champion in Whataboutism,” is very difficult to draw out. “He doesn’t say a word that he doesn’t intend to. He’s extremely controlled.”
The Putin interview, which aired on ORF earlier this week, quickly became tense, with tough questions and blunt answers. Wolf said he felt that Putin, who hosted the journalist in the Kremlin, was “the man of the house and every interruption is considered a lèse-majesté.”
Nevertheless, he repeatedly interrupted Putin. “The moment you interrupt him, he focuses on the interruption. Politicians rarely do that. Either they allow themselves to be interrupted or they ignore you and keep speaking.”
Because of the way Putin handles interruptions, “the interviewer appears rude or not particularly interested in his answers,” Wolf explained.
At one stage, Putin urged Wolf to “be patient” and wait until he is done with the answer. He eventually resorted to Wolf’s native language, German, saying: “Seien Sie so nett, lassen Sie mich etwas sagen” (Please be so kind as to let me say something).
The journalist, however, said interrupting his interviewees is something he does frequently. “I handled it [the Putin interview] like I always do and was surprised that such a big deal was made over the fact that I interrupted him 11 times."
“Eleven times in 54 minutes is really not very much, sometimes I do that in 10 minutes.” Topics for the interview were negotiated ahead of time, but the Kremlin never asked to have the questions sent in advance, he said. “There wasn’t any issue that was off-limits.”
Wolf added that the simultaneous translation proved to be another tricky point during the interview, but off camera, Putin spoke German.
“What you saw on TV was 97 percent of my interaction with him. The only difference is that off-camera he speaks German and very softly,” Wolf said. “I found that to be the most interesting part. And his German is very good.”
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