Putin has attacked America’s ‘imperial ambitions’ during his annual marathon TV show – and couldn’t resist a swipe at his US counterpart Barack Obama over his failings in Libya.
The Russian president said the US should treat Moscow as an equal partner and warned Washington to avoid ‘speaking from the position of force’.
He then described Barack Obama as ‘very strong’ for saying that the failed aftermath of the 2011 intervention in Libya was the worst mistake of his presidency.
Obama, in an appearance on Fox News Sunday said his biggest mistake was ‘probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.’
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On the spot: Vladimir Putin has been asked by a 12-year-old girl whether he would rescue the leaders of Turkey and the Ukraine if they were drowning – only for the Russian president to say he would save neither
A schoolgirl asked Putin if he would save Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (left) if they were drowning and, if so, who would he would save first
His Russian counterpart said today that Obama has shown his courage by making the statement, adding that ‘only a very strong man could do that.’
He then said that the U.S. nearly made a similar mistake in Syria, but added that Moscow and Washington have cooperated in trying to settle the crisis.
Earlier, he said the US must learn to respect Russia’s legitimate interests and cooperate with Moscow as an equal. Russia-US ties have been strained over the Ukrainian crisis, differences over Syria and other issues.
Putin says Moscow and Washington have been able to cooperate constructively on non-proliferation issues, the fight against terrorism, the Iranian nuclear standoff and other issues despite the tensions.
He insisted that if the US treated Russia with respect, ‘we will always be able to find solutions that will satisfy everyone.’
The 63-year-old was speaking during his highly scripted marathon annual call-in television show.
He had earlier been asked by a 12-year-old girl whether he would rescue the leaders of Turkey and the Ukraine if they were drowning – only to say he would save neither.
She asked if he would save Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko if they were drowning and, if so, who would he would save first.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM RUSSIAN PRESIDENT’S MARATHON CALL-IN TV SHOW
PUTIN 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.’
Call-in: The Russian leader uses the annual event to consolidate his image as a strong leader who protects Russia from foreign threats and cares about people’s needs
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 THE 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 RUSSIA’S GDP:
‘(Last year) gross domestic product declined 3.7 percent. This year the government expects the economy to continue to 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 LIBERALLY-MINDED FORMER FINANCE MINISTER ALEXEI 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.’
‘A lot of resources are being spent inappropriately. This should be changed.
Putin insisted that after Russia pulled back some of its warplanes from Syria, the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra from ISIS. An aerial view shows the Russian bombing of an ISIS position in the war-torn country
‘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.’
‘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.’
Centre stage: Ahead of the show, Russians sent more than a million questions to the Russian leader, ranging from economic troubles at home to the situation in Syria and Ukraine
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.’
‘SÃ¼ddeutsche 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.’
Vladimir Putin was asked which US Presidential candidate was better – Donald Trump (pictured) or Hillary Clinton
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.’
‘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.’
Putin responded wryly that ‘if someone decided to get drowned, it’s impossible to save him.’
But he added: ‘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.’
The Russian leader uses the annual event to consolidate his image as a strong leader who protects Russia from foreign threats and cares about people’s needs.
Ahead of the show, Russians sent more than a million questions to the Russian leader, ranging from economic troubles at home to the situation in Syria and Ukraine.
The first question came from a woman from the Siberian region of Omsk who asked about potholed roads.
Putin replied the government needs to make sure that local officials don’t divert road construction funds to other needs.
In a response to another viewer’s question, Putin said Russia had shored up the Syrian army to the point where it can conduct offensive operations despite a Russian military drawdown.
He insisted that after Russia pulled back some of its warplanes from Syria, the Syrian army recaptured Palmyra from ISIS.
The first question came from a woman from the Siberian region of Omsk who asked about potholed roads
Putin responded to questions about the possibility of restoring flights to Egypt in the wake of the terror attack on a passenger jet over Sinai Peninsula in October
Putin voiced hope that the Russian- and U.S.-brokered truce will help Syria peace talks in Geneva go forward, paving way for a new constitution and an early election. The ISIS and the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front have been excluded from the truce.
Commenting on the situation around Aleppo, where fighting has intensified recently, Putin said the Nusra units and other opposition forces are positioned close to each other, complicating the situation.
Meanwhile, the Russian leader said he still considered Turkey a friendly nation despite the current strain in their relations.
Russian-Turkish ties worsened dramatically after a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border last November.
Putin responded by halting package tours to Turkey and banning most agricultural imports from Turkey.
Referring to Turkey, he said Russia still has ‘problems with some politicians who have behaved improperly.’
He also responded to questions about the possibility of restoring flights to Egypt in the wake of the terror attack on a passenger jet over Sinai Peninsula in October.
Putin also waded into the world of sport, claiming meldonium, the banned substance for which tennis star Maria Sharapova (pictured) has tested positive, shouldn’t be considered a performance-enhancing drug
He said Russian and Egyptian officials so far have failed to agree on security procedures needed to restore direct flights between the two nations.
The Russian plane flying from an Egyptian resort crashed into the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, killing all 224 people on board.
Moscow said it was brought down by an explosive device, and a local ISIS cell has claimed responsibility for planting it.
The crash and Russia’s decision to cut air links to Egypt has dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s vital tourism sector.
Putin said Russia and Egypt must agree on enhanced airport security checks to make it safe for the Russians to travel to Egypt. He said no agreement has been reached yet.
Asked about another key area of Russian foreign affairs, Putiin said he believed that there would be no military action in eastern Ukraine, but the West should use its influence on the authorities in Kiev to fully implement the Minsk peace deal.
Commenting on Ukraine’s parliamentary approval of Volodymyr Groysman as Ukrainian prime minister earlier on Thursday, Putin told his annual televised phone-in that he hoped the new Ukraine’s government would be ‘pragmatic’.
He also waded into the world of sport, claiming meldonium, the banned substance for which tennis star Maria Sharapova has tested positive, shouldn’t be considered a performance-enhancing drug.
There have been 172 failed drug tests for meldonium worldwide since the Latvian-made heart-drug was banned in 2016. Russian athletes make up the largest contingent of those known to have tested positive so far.
Putin said meldonium ‘doesn’t influence the result, that’s totally certain,’ and instead ‘just keeps heart muscles in good condition.’
While Putin said he did not think authorities were targeting Russia in the decision to ban meldonium, he criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency for not carrying out research earlier on how long it takes to leave the body.
Some athletes say they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned but have still tested positive.