Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his tenth annual press conference on Thursday. The president answered questions on the situation in Ukraine, the economical situation in Russia, new projects in the sphere of Russia's oil and gas export, NATO expansion and many more acute issues.
On the conflict in eastern Ukraine
The press conference was attended by journalists from countries all over the world, including Ukraine. A Ukrainian journalist asked about the situation in eastern Ukraine and alleged participation of Russia in the combat actions in the conflict region. Vladimir Putin answered that those Russians who are taking part in combat operations in the south-east of Ukraine as volunteers are not mercenaries, because they are not paid for it. Vladimir Putin said the military operation in Ukraine's east is indeed a punitive one. Russia is ready to mediate the Ukrainian conflict settlement, according to the president. Crisis in Ukraine should be settled by political means only, not by military means or by a blockade, Putin stressed. He reminded that the tenth humanitarian convoy is on the way to eastern Ukraine. The president of Ukraine wants to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, but he's not the only one, Vladimir Putin said, adding he was one of the people initiating the Minsk agreements.
Russia proceeds from the assumption Ukraine will have common political space but both sides should work towards it, the Russian president said. If Ukraine wants its territorial integrity preserved, it should stop pressuring the people in eastern regions, Vladimir Putin said. Kiev authorities do not observe their obligations under the Minsk agreements, for example, they have not adopted law on amnesty, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the press conference.
Asked about the Ukrainian pilot Savchenko currently awaiting trial in Russia, Putin said that Russian law enforcement agencies have information she was involved in the deaths of Russian journalists. If she is found guilty by the Russian court, she will be imprisoned, the president said.
On Donbas blockade
Vladimir Putin said he is convinced that economic ties should be restored between the southeast and Kiev as Ukraine relies on coal produced in Donbas.
“We are absolutely against the economic blockade, economic ties need to be restored,” Putin said during an annual press conference on Thursday, stressing that the current situation over Donbas coal supplies is really absurd.
The reason is that all the banks have been closed in Ukraine’s south-east, Putin said.“A significant part of Ukraine’s energy sector works on Donbas coal, and we have been asked to exert pressure on Donbass, so that the miners agree to supply it, and we have done this, but still they do not buy it,” he said.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian partners said they were ready to pay and transferred the prepayment, but the miners in Donbass failed to receive cash as their cards do not work. “And the same is in every issue,” he added.
NATO's expansion eastwards is like building new Berlin Wall
NATO's expansion eastwards is like building a new Berlin Wall, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the press conference. The president recalled NATO's expansion eastwards, creation of missile defense.
Russia’s tough position on crisis situations should make it clear to counterparts that common security space is necessary, Putin said.
As for Russia's recent military activity, Putin admitted Russia' has contributerd to the tension in the world, but he said that Russia is only protecting itself. Putin reminded that the Russia after the fall of the USSR stopped their strategic aviation flights though the US continued theirs. Now, Russia has resumed such exercises, the president said.The main problem of the international relations today is creation of new dividing lines, Vladimir Putin said.
Putin said Russia has two foreign military bases: one in Kygyzstan, opened on request of the president for protection from the militants from Afghanistan, and in Tajikistan, while the US has bases around the world.
Putin reminded that the US withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty unilaterally and are creating their ABM systems in Alaska and in Europe.
On 'the fifth column'
Putin said he doesn't accept the charges with breathing a new life into the ‘fifth column’ term answering a question on whether or not he feels personal responsibility of some kind for reviving the term.
“I don’t feel any responsibility for this,” Putin said. “All my actions aim to consolidate our society and not to divide it,” Putin said.
He said there is an opinion that he should be more accurate in his public statements, adding: “I’ll think it over but it’s impossible anyway to coat everything with polish endlessly. Sometime you have to call a spade a spade.”
“It’s a highly complicated problem,” Putin admitted. The border line between the opposition and the fifth column is very fine and it’s really very difficult to give a definition to it.
Putin says that not only Russia is focusing on strengthening cooperation with the Asia-Pacific markets. Russia’s turn towards the East comes due to the situation in the global economy, not due to political reasons, Putin noted. “The Asia-Pacific is developing quicker than any other parts of the world. New possibilities emerge,” Putin said. “In terms of energy for China, India, Japan and South Korea the demands in energy resources are growing by leaps and bounds. Everything there is developing quicker than in other regions of the world. Should we give up this?” the Russian leader said.
According to Putin, the Russian Power of Siberia pipeline to China will let Russia redistribute gas flows from the western regions of the country to the Far East.
Asked about the pipeline to Turkey that Russia is going to build instead of the South Stream gas pipeline, Vladimir Putin said the projected pipeline may be connected to the European gas transport system. Organization of a new European gas hub at the border between Turkey and Greecedepends on European counterparts. “To a big extent, this depends on the European counterparts. Whether they would like to have stable, absolutely guaranteed, risk free energy supplies from Russia, which they need. Good, if yet, we shall be working, and via Greece we may reach Macedonia, and further Serbia, and then to go again to Baumgartner in Austria. If they are not interested, we shall not do so,” he said. He also said that there's no choice for Europe now but to buy Russian gas, as it's the most available and the cheapest gas on the market at the moment.
Putin also noted his Turkish counterpart Recet Tayyip Erdogan’s firm position on the gas contract with Russia in the face of the West pressure. Answering a question of the West’s request for Turkey to join sanctions against Russia, Putin said he proposed Ergodan at the Russian-Turkish talks on the expansion of gas cooperation: “Let’s not do it”. “But he (Erdogan) is a strong man. He said: ‘No. We will’. This is the choice of our Turkish partners,” Putin said.
Russia's current economic situation is not cost of Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he does not believe the current economic situation is the cost to be paid for Crimea.
The president focused on the economy, saying the Russian GDP in 2014 grew 0.6-0.7% and the growth of the agricultural sector is expected to ammount to 3.3%.
As for the present situation in the economy, Vladimir Putin says it was caused by external factors.
Asked about the situation on the Russian financial market, the president said the slump may continue for up to two years. He also said Russia's central bank and the government worked out the right measures to help the economy, though the implementation was late. It is not the central bank that is responsible for the situation in the country, Putin concluded.
Asked about Russian economy's dependence on hydrocarbon export and a possibility of using the current crisis for good to restructure the Russian economy, Putin says it's a difficult process, and it's possible through improvement of the business environment. He also said falling oil prices will inevitably require economy restructuring.
The president said Russian bureaucracy is nothing compared to the European one.
Om capital amnesty
Vladimir Putin pledged on Thursday to personally see to it that there are no violations in Russia’s offshore capital amnesty.
“I’ll take the toughest measures” against the persons breaching capital amnesty guarantees, the president said.
“I’ll personally see to it that there are no violations either with regard to mechanisms or guarantees,” Putin said.
“And I want to warn all my colleagues, including those in law-enforcement agencies: we’ll take the toughest measures against those who violate this principle I spoke about,” Putin said.