In the recent U.N. Security Council meeting, U.K. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Allen quoted Putin by the following words (YouTube link, the relevant part starts at 1:07:30):
Traitors will kick the bucket, believe me. Those other folks betrayed their friends, their brother in arms, whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them.
Is this an accurate quote? In what context has this been said, i.e., to whom was it referring?
No, on the occasion in question Putin did not say that traitors would be killed. The quote in your question comes from a March 5, 2018 broadcast of BBC Newsnight. It is a concatenation of three soundbites from a three-minute statement in which Putin says that Russia no longer kills traitors. The soundbites come from the last paragraph of his statement in which Putin paints a melodramatic picture of traitors as broken men living out their remaining days in abject misery leading to an early death.
The particular traitor to whom Putin alludes is not Sergei Skripal as some have claimed. He is correctly understood to allude to Colonel Aleksander Poteyev convicted in absentia of betraying deep-cover spies in the United States.
The actual fate of enemies of the Russian state is beyond the scope of the question and this answer. Instead we will discuss the beliefs on this subject which Putin was attempting to instill. He was inviting the Russian people to picture traitors dying friendless and alone Men Without a Country, presumably in apartments strewn with empty vodka bottles.
The translation in the BBC broadcast alters the tone of Putin’s statement and broadens the set of possible meanings of his words to the point that, when they are read in the style used by Western comedians portraying Putin, they seem to convey veiled threats of violence.
The next day (March 6th) the composite soundbite from the BBC broadcast appeared at the head of article on the website of The Sun, now shorn of the context provided in the BBC broadcast. The article describes the statement as a “threat to ‘choke traitors’”, thereby changing the BBC’s poor translation into an unambiguously false one (as discussed below).
The day after that (March 7th) the Independent put up an article with its own version of the BBC video. The article incorrectly identifies it as a video which “re-emerged online” and describes Putin’s words as “apparent death threats”.
Also on March 7th the Telegraph described Putin’s words unambiguously as a “death threat”. This despite the fact that in 2010 they had reported on the very same statement and found exactly the opposite meaning in it. What is more, the Telegraph goes beyond saying that Putin’s words were spoken close to the time of Sergei Skripal’s release to assert that Putin was speaking of him explicitly.
On March 7th on Good Morning Britain Piers Morgan asked Alexander Nekrassov (former Kremlin adviser) what Putin meant by “kick the bucket”. Mr. Nekrassov’s answers are apparently interpretations of “they will croak all by themselves” which Putin can be heard saying in Russian in the BBC audio. Mr. Morgan sees this as an evasion. Mr. Nekrassov in turn sees Mr. Morgan’s interpretation that Putin meant “they will be killed” as perverse and becomes annoyed. Neither one of them seemed to know the context of the quote.
On March 12th the video was mentioned in an editorial in the New York Times. The editorial links to the March 7th article in the Independent and quotes the translation from the video. The editors seem to have obtained some information about the TV show during which the statement was made, but this is a bit garbled too. In particular their description of the question is incorrect and they make no mention of the overall import of Putin’s answer.
Also on March 12th Newsweek made explicit the hitherto unspoken assumption that Putin had spoken in the style of “a Mafia boss in the Godfather series” while somewhat incongruously expressing doubt that Putin had been involved in the attempted assasination.
On March 14th an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council was held. Vassily Nebenzia (Russian ambassador to the United Nations) compared high British officials who accused Russia of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal with Inspector Lestrade who regularly got stuck on superficially plausible theory of the crime and when it turned out to be a dead-end was unable to extricate himself without the aid of Sherlock Homes. To this Jonathan Allen, deputy ambassador to the United Nations rejoined:
An finally, my colleague quotes fiction. Let me quote the Russian president when we think about who benefits. In 2010 he said, quote "Traitors will kick the bucket, believe me. Those other folks betrayed their friends, their brothers in arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those thirty pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them."
Mr. Allen can perhaps be excused for thinking the quote authentic. It had been bandied about in the press for more than a week almost unchallenged. Putin had spoken on national TV and so nothing stopped the press from going back to look at the original video.
Earlier Western Press Coverage of Putin’s Statement
A preliminary verification would not even have required a knowledge of the Russian language. Putin’s statement had attracted some press coverage in the West at the time he made it. A number of these reports are available online with fuller, more illuminating versions of the quote in superior translations:
Vladimir Putin: Russian secret services don't kill traitors (The Telegraph)
Vladimir Putin says Russian secret service no longer kills traitors (Mirror)
Putin: Russia's Secret Services Don't Kill Traitors (NBC News)
Putin: We Don't Kill Traitors Anymore (CBS News)