HIGHLIGHTS-Russian President Putin's comments in annual phone-in

The following are highlights from
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual phone-in on Thursday.

ON SYRIA

“The point is not that we left and dropped everything… we
withdrew a significant part or our contingent, but after the
withdrawal we left the Syrian army in a position where, with the
support of the part of the contingent that was left there, it
can carry out serious offensive operations. Already after our
withdrawal it has taken some important targets.”

“It is necessary to accept – for all to agree and sit down
at the negotiating table – to accept the constitution and on the
basis of the constitution to hold elections. That is the way to
get out of the crisis.”

“The opposition (in Syria) is trying to recover what they
lost. Actually, it should be said that really it is not the
Syrian army that is fighting there, but some Kurdish formations
and some other armed groups fighting among themselves and
against the Kurds. We are monitoring closely and will do
everything to ensure the situation does not worsen.”

ON WHOM TO SAVE FROM DROWNING: TURKISH PRESIDENT TAYYIP
ERDOGAN OR UKRAINE PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO

“If someone has decided to drown, it is no longer possible
to save them. But, of course, we are ready to lend a helping
hand and a hand of friendship to any of our partners if they
want that themselves.”

ON ECONOMY

“We should not be printing money, we should be changing the
structure of the economy.”

ON SOVEREIGN WEALTH FUNDS

“If they are spent at pace in which they were spent last
year, if they are not replenished and nothing is done, then they
will last for at least four years. But we are planning that the
economy will grow next year and therefore there will be no need
to spend as much of the reserves as we have been spending. So
there should be no fear.”

ON GDP

“(Last year) gross domestic product declined 3.7 percent.
This year the government expects the economy to continue ti
decline slightly. But only about 0.3 percent. Next year we
expect a 1.4 percent growth. For sure, it is difficult to feel
the bottom.”

ON KUDRIN

“We have agreed that he would work more actively in the
Presidential Economic Council, perhaps he will become one of the
deputies of the council.”

ON INFRASTRUCTURE

“A lot of resources are being spent inappropriately. This
should be changed.”

ON INFLATION

“The rise in food is substantial. To a certain extent the
rise in food prices is a man-made result of measures taken to
develop the agricultural sector in condition of Western
sanctions.”

“The rise in food prices is a temporary phenomenon. Prices
will stabilise.”

ON TURKEY

“We do not find ourselves, and we will not find ourselves,
in a ring of hostility. This can be absolutely ruled out. We
have very good relations with most of the countries in the
world.”

“We have also, on the whole, good relations with our
neighbours. And here we consider Turkey to be our friend and the
Turkish people – a friendly nation, with whom we are definitely
going to be building the best possible friendly relations.”

“We have problems with some political leaders whose
behaviour, actions we consider inappropriate. But we are working
on this, as you see quite calmly, without any hitches… and
this is the line of our reaction to unfriendly actions towards
Russia.”

“A reaction is absolutely necessary, otherwise they will be
at your neck and will be chasing you away. Such cases have
already happened in our history, a long time ago. We should not
allow a return to that – and we will not allow that.”

ON RUSSIA’S DOPING SCANDAL

“I do not think that the decision (to ban meldonium use by
sports people) has any political subtext, although meldonium has
been used exclusively by sports people in Eastern Europe, former
Soviet Union countries … and had never been considered as
doping. But again, I do not think there is some political
subtext to that.”

“We need to improve our work with international
organisations, to react in a timely way to their demands. And of
course, it is necessary to ensure the health of our sports
people so that sporting competition is fair, so fans feel
enjoyment from a fair and honest competition.”

“In any case, such (honest) sports people should not suffer.
And in our case it is the majority of them, who have no relation
to the doping scandal.”

ON HIS PERSONAL LIFE

“You know, we (Putin and his ex-wife, Lyudmila) sometimes
meet. Not often, but from time to time. We have good relations.
They may actually be better than they had been before. I know
that all is well with her. … And I am also doing well.”

ON PANAMA PAPERS

“Firstly, as strange as it may seem, they are not publishing
misleading information about offshore accounts. The information
is reliable. It appears not to have been prepared by journalists
but, most likely, by lawyers.”

“They do not accuse anyone specifically. They are simply
trying to muddy the waters. Someone out there from among my
friends is engaged in some business. The question is – does this
money from these offshore accounts reach officials, including
the president? And it is unfathomable that Sergei Pavlovich
Roldugin, who is in question here, could think about spending
all his money on the purchase of a musical instrument.”

“Here in Russia we can still imagine a bribe in the form of
greyhound puppies, but the violin and the cello? I have not
heard of that.”

“Who does it, these provocations? We know that there are
some staff from official American institutions.”

“Süddeutsche Zeitung is a media holding company owned by the
American financial corporation Goldman Sachs. The instigators’
ears are sticking out everywhere but they do not even redden. We
should not expect them to show any kind of remorse, they will
keep on doing it and there will be more of this stuff closer to
the (parliamentary) elections.”

“But they must understand that the issue is not about
specific people, individuals, no matter what position they hold
in Russia. The issue is about the country, which cannot be
manipulated, which cannot be forced to act as someone wants and
dance to their tune.”

“If they talk to us with respect, if they look for a
compromise – as we do – then we will always find a solution that
will satisfy everyone, both ourselves and our partners. It is
necessary to work with Russia as an equal partner.”

ON WHICH U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IS BETTER: DONALD TRUMP
OR HILLARY CLINTON?

“We need to look for who is better … In our history of
bilateral relations, there were moments when we interacted very
honestly, achieved very good results at national and
international levels. Today, there are also examples of such
cooperation.”

“You need to look at the root of the problem and act not
from a position of strength and dictatorship, not from a
position of imperial ambition, but act respectfully with all
partners, and of course with Russia. Without that it is
impossible to form a modern democratic relationship.”

ON SANCTIONS:

“I do not think our partners will move towards lifting the
restrictions on our country in the near future.”

“If they (the West) come to the conclusion that it is in
their own interests to take steps to repeal those restrictions,
then this will put us in a difficult situation, because in
accordance with World Trade Organisation rules we will be left
unprotected if we keep our counter sanctions in place. We will
closely follow this process.”

(Reporting by Moscow Newsroom)

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