George W. Bush: Russia is not a democracy

The bad thing about the Middle East is that Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has a presence there, former President George W. Bush said during a wide-range conversation at a closed-to-press event in New York on Wednesday.

“You know what the bad thing is, for the first time in a long time? Putin is in the Middle East,” Bush said in a joint conversation with outgoing Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky at an event in honor of the former prisoner of Zion at Cipriani on Broadway.

“I have found Putin has a huge chip on his shoulder. He believes that the end of the Soviet [Union] was bad for the world order, and I believe Putin is a zero-sum thing – I win, you lose,” Bush explained. “Everything he does is poised to diminish America.”

The former president also suggested Russia is not a democracy. “Not Really,” Bush said when asked by the moderator if he considers Russia a democracy. “What [Vladimir] Putin has done is he’s undermined civil society. You can’t have a truly functioning democracy without a robust civil society. During my presidency, he got rid of the independent media. And so people say, ‘Oh man, he’s really popular in Russia,’ and my answer is: Hell, I’d been popular if I owned NBC… Anytime you hear a leader say, ‘I am indispensable, I must stay in power. My country can’t survive without me in power’, that’s not a democracy.”

Bush also praised the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, for pushing reforms and giving greater rights to women. “They are going to get to drive, finally,” the moderator said. “Yeah, I said, democracy is a long road,” Bush quipped.

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