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Transcript: Fiona Hill on "Face the Nation," Feb. 25, 2024

Fiona Hill: Putin has "created a martyr" in Alexei Navalny
Russian President Vladimir Putin has "created a martyr" in Alexei Navalny, Fiona Hill says 05:23

The following is a transcript of an interview with former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill that aired on Feb. 25, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill. Welcome back.

FIONA HILL: Thanks Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday the body of opposition leader Alexei Navalny was handed over to his mother after she had asked for more than a week to have him released, his corpse released. Why do you think Vladimir Putin changed his mind and let it happen? 

FIONA HILL: I think he actually realized he'd gone far too far. He was starting to get protests, even from Russian Orthodox priests. I mean, Putin prides himself on being this great religious leader of extolling Christian values. So there were Russian Orthodox priests saying that Putin was worse than Pontius Pilate in the Bible, for denying, you know, the mother, and the family, the body, all kinds of celebrities. And of course, there was quite a bit of revulsion. You know about this as well, because Navalny's mother, a very brave woman, actually went on to YouTube, which can still be seen inside of Russia as well. And basically pointing out that Putin or the Kremlin, or the prison authorities, were all acting against the law by not handing over the body, they were violating and even there are norms and terms. And I think that really got a reaction, because people will look at the mother, you know, for who she is the actual mother of someone who has died, not a political person until that moment. And I think it was really escalating out of, out of control in terms of the message that the Kremlin was trying to enforce. It was making it a very big deal. The question now will be about the funeral, because of course, what she said very openly was they were blackmailing her to have a secret funeral. So not to have the traditional Russian public viewing of the body, and then a basically a commemoration at the graveside. So it's going to be a question now about what they allow to happen next.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And well, he created a martyr. 

FIONA HILL: He did, he has created a martyr. Absolutely right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This past week, though, we saw not only the victory in eastern Ukraine, you saw the death, death of Alexei Navalny. You saw Russia take another American prisoner. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Because she donated 50 bucks to a Ukrainian charity.

FIONA HILL: That's right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: He seems very emboldened right now.

FIONA HILL: He is and I mean, that's, you know, really fits into the whole theme of your discussions this morning. Putin thinks that he's winning, because we've blinked, because we don't seem to have the courage either politically or morally right now, to stand up and support Ukraine in fending, in fending him off, in fending Russia off. He's also basically a month away for his reanointment, I can't really call it an election, as the President of Russia, and Putin's basically saying, you're going to have me until 2036, because he can have two more six year terms. And I'm so much in control of this situation that I can do, literally whatever I like. He's trying to intimidate everyone, and to basically remove any sense of hope whatsoever. And, you know, these targeting of, you know, young woman who's given 50 bucks. I mean, that's actually fairly ridiculous. But the whole message of it is to say, I mean business, any kind of dissent, no matter how minor, will be punished with the full weight of the step behind it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well we're in the middle of a election in this country. You worked for Donald Trump, when he was in office. He has continued to call himself a "political dissident." He actually compared himself to Alexei Navalny.

SOT DONALD TRUMP: It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: He's talking about legal cases against him. He's talking about Russia quite a lot on the campaign trail again. What's going on?

FIONA HILL: Well, there's a couple of things. I mean, first of all, former President Trump has made it very clear that he admires Vladimir Putin. I mean, he continues, you know, to really extol him, despite all of the evidence, you know, to, to the contrary, you know, from what his views should, should be here that Putin is an avowed enemy at this particular point to the United States. I mean, he's openly declared war on the United States. He's taking American citizens hostage. It's not just the young woman who was recently taken, who's a dual citizen, but it's also Evan Gershkovich, from The Wall Street Journal. It's also Paul Whelan, the former Marine who was taken years ago. President Trump actually ought to have a sense of responsibility about American citizens. And instead, you know, what he's doing in the most brazen, and frankly, shameful fashion, is trying to suggest that the United States is like Putin's Russia. I mean, since when have we been assassinating our opposition candidates in this country since when have presidents of the United States been wanting to take out political opponents through poisoning, or through imprisoning them in you know, basically the equivalent of Arctic penal colonies. So what President Trump is doing is degrading the United States. I just don't understand how people don't call him out for this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So we hear from Trump supporters at rallies, though, questions about aid to Ukraine. Is what he is talking– is he planting seeds that last, even if Joe Biden wins the election?

FIONA HILL: Of course he is. And he's also, frankly, parroting the kind of propaganda that we've been having coming out of Russia for more than a decade now. I mean, since Russia first made moves against Ukraine, which goes back a considerable period of time, to cut offs of their gas back in 2006, for example, the annexation of Crimea in 2014. President Putin and the Kremlin had been a full on propaganda effort, basically against Ukraine and frankly, President Trump is starting to repeat some of the same things that the Russians have been saying too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Fiona Hill. It's always great to talk to you. We hope to have you back again soon. We'll be right back. 

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