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Obama characterised Netanyahu as a 'Putinism' subscriber, transcript says

The former US president included Netanyahu in a list of leaders he felt were on the opposing side to the US in 'the war of ideas'
Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely pose for a selfie on election night on 10 April 2019 (AFP)

US President Barack Obama accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of subscribing to what he called "Putinism" in his final days in office, according to newly declassified documents. 

A transcript from the Department of Justice, first published by Bloomberg, details Obama's off-the-record discussion with reporters three days before leaving office.

"But what I worry about most is, there is a war right now of ideas, more than any hot war, and it is between Putinism - which, by the way, is subscribed to, at some level, by [Turkish President Reccep Tayyip] Erdogan or Netanyahu or [then-Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte and [then-President-elect Donald] Trump," Obama said, according to the transcript.

He described the idea of "Putinism" as an opposing force to "a vision of a liberal market-based democracy" which, even with its flaws, was "responsible for most of the human progress we've seen over the last 50, 75 years".

The document was obtained by Bloomberg's Jason Leopold in a response to a five-year-old Freedom of Information Act request to the DOJ. It highlights a broad range of issues Obama addressed with reporters just days before Trump assumed office.

He primed his statement on Putinism with a credit to the degree to which the US needed to "underwrite the world order". 

"If we don't initiate a conversation around human rights or women's rights, or LGBT rights, or climate change, or open government, or anti-corruption initiatives, whatever cause you believe in, it doesn't happen," Obama said, according to the transcript. 

"Almost everything - every multilateral initiative function, norm, policy that is out there - it's underwritten by us."

A history of murky relations

Netanyahu and Obama harboured a strained relationship during the US president's time in office. Years of tension were further marred by issues including Russia's 2014 entry into Syria's civil war in support of Bashar al-Assad - while the US supported opposition groups - and Russia's 2012 granting of political asylum to Edward Snowden.

Netanyahu, then prime minister, boasted of friendly relations with Russia's president, even using their general warmth as a campaigning point leading up to Israel's 2019 elections. His multiple visits to Moscow to meet with Putin were understood as a sign of amiability.

Trump's presidency brought closer ties with Netanyahu - demonstrated by staunch support of the Abraham Accords normalisation deals - as well as with Putin, whom Trump regarded as "highly respected".

Obama's comments reaffirm the known tumult of his relationship with the Russian president - a legacy that has taken on greater significance during Joe Biden's tenure as president and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

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