Putin calls for better UK-Russia relations at massive annual press conference
Vladimir Putin called for an end to the deadlock in UK-Russia relations during his massive annual press conference.
"“In my mind, UK-Russian relations are at a dead end and it’s in the interests of both sides to get out of this dead end," the Russian President said at a gathering known for pageantry and colourful quotes.
He added that the UK was Russia’s top direct investor last year, putting £22bn into the country. Although he had not discussed partnerships with Theresa May, Mr Putin said that business communities in both countries were holding productive talks.
The President also advised the UK should go through with Brexit, saying that "otherwise it wasn’t really a referendum."
However, Mr Putin, whose approval ratings have fallen after a turbulent year, skirted the single question asked about Russia’s role in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. He termed the story propaganda, and was not pressed to explain why he had called the suspects in the Salisbury poisoning civilians, after documents and interviews with neighbours showed the pair to belong to military intelligence.
Asked about America’s withdrawal from Syria, Mr Putin welcomed the announcement. "Let’s not forget, the presence of your troops there is illegitimate," he said.
He also blasted Mr Trump’s plan to exit the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, warning this could prompt a new arms race and "leads us to a dangerous line". To preserve his security, Russia has developed new nuclear weapons “that don’t exist elsewhere in the world," he added.
More than 1,700 journalists were accredited to attend what state television called the “main media event of the year”. This number was a new record, as it is most years.
Press conference ends with no mention of Skripal suspects
In nearly four hours of questions, Putin failed to address the Skripal suspects’ identities, who he previously claimed were civilians but have since been shown to be military intelligence. He only took one question about Salisbury and that was a softball from RT
Russian leader denies links to 'Putin's chef' and mercenaries
When asked about the Wagner mercenaries and their patron Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as “Putin’s chef” for serving the president during state dinners, the Russian leader insisted he had nothing to do with them. Mr Prigozhin has been sanctioned for interfering in the US election with his troll factory and was recently filmed taking part in a meeting between Russian military chiefs and Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar.
“All my chefs are in the federal guard service, they are from the military. I don’t have any other chefs,” he said.
As for Wagner, if “they’re not violating Russian law, they have the right to sell their services anywhere on the planet,” he said.
Three journalists were killed while investigating the Russian mercenaries’ presence in the Central African Republic in July. Mr Putin distanced himself from their killing, saying they had entered the country under the guise of tourists and were assassinated by local groups.
UK-Russia relations at 'dead end,' but trade increasing despite Brexit
Mr Putin said he spoke with Theresa May on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina, and argued that Russia’s trade with Britain was increasing in spite of Brexit.
“We greeted each other and spoke a few words to each other,” Mr Putin said. “In my mind, UK-Russian relations are at a dead end and it’s in the interests of both sides to get out of this dead end. As for the effects of Brexit, I think it’s minimal, but it will influence the world economy and us indirectly.”
Mr Putin, whose troll factory was found to have put out pro-Brexit tweets on the day of the vote, said the UK should go through with Brexit, “otherwise it wasn’t really a referendum”. The UK invested $22 billion in Russia this year, making it the top direct investor, he added.
“It’s their affair, but in any case they’re interested in markets, in partnerships,” he said. “I didn’t talk about this with the prime minister, but we are talking about this with our friends and colleagues from Great Britain, especially in the business sphere.”
When will the Russian president remarry?
And finally the question that’s been on everyone’s mind: When will Putin get remarried and to whom? The Russian leader, who is so protective of his private life that his daughters’ identities were unknown until recently, divorced his wife in 2013.
"He’s married and he wants me to be too," Putin joked about the journalist who asked the question. Alas, he gave no straight answer: "As an orderly person I should do this at some point."
Putin praises Trump's decision to withdraw 'illegitimate' troops from Syria
“In this Donald is right, I agree with him,” Mr Putin said when asked about Mr Trump’s statement that Isil had been defeated. “As for US troops in Syria, I don’t think they’re needed, let’s not forget that presence of your troops there is illegitimate,” he added. “They’re there without a United Nations decision or an invitation from the Syrian government. We are there at the invitation of the Syrian government, so if the United States has decided to withdraw its contingent, that’s good.”
'No reason' for the US to imprison Butina
Mr Putin said there was “no reason” for the United States to imprison Maria Butina, who admitted this week to acting as a Russian agent when she helped make connections with conservative activists and politicians, including Donald Trump Jr.
“I can say for sure that she didn’t execute any state tasks, whatever she may have said under the threat of 12 to 15 years in prison,” he said. “I don’t understand why they imprisoned her, there was no reason. We’ll see how it ends. We are not indifferent to this.”
Putin fails to address real identities of Salisbury suspects
How to dodge a question. Russia Today asked Putin about the Skripal case, but didn’t mention the suspects accused of the Salisbury poisoning. The president previously claimed they were civilians, but documents and former neighbours have indicated they were in military intelligence.
“This is a politicised Russophobic approach, it’s just an excuse to organise another attack on Russia, if weren’t the Skripals I’m sure they would have thought up something else to contain Russia’s’ development,” Mr Putin responded and moved on without addressing his dubious previous claim.
No plans for exchanging captured Ukrainian sailors
Mr Putin said there were currently no plans for a prisoner exchange for the Ukrainian sailors captured in the Kerch strait last month.
Kiev’s intermediary Viktor Medvedchuk came to Moscow recently and asked about the possibility of freeing them. "I said this question can’t be decided until the criminal case against them is brought to an end,” he said.
Mr Putin blasted Washington for its intention to withdraw from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty and warned that another key arms agreement with the United States would come to an end in 2021. Russia has been forced to develop new nuclear weapons “that don’t exist elsewhere in the world” to preserve strategic parity, he said. “We will survive, we will guarantee our security, but for humanity this is very bad. It brings us closer to the edge,” he said. He also slammed the development of tactical warheads in the West as a “tendency for nuclear threshold to be lowered.”
Putin calls on Russia to boost growth
Focusing on Russia’s economy, which until recently was in recession due to low oil prices and sanctions, Mr Putin has said GDP growth this year will be 1.72 per cent.
He called on Russia to “enter a new league” and become the fifth-largest economy in the world, an “achievable goal”. It is currently outside the top 10.
He again called for an economic "breakthrough," a talking point that also featured in his call-in show in June.
Press conference begins
Journalists are competing to get Mr Putin’s attention by holding up eye-catching home-made signs.
It's the Putin press conference, where Russia's top journalists test their mettle to see who can make the most eye-catching placard pic.twitter.com/swyeH4xbSl
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) December 20, 2018
The editor of The Insider, a publication that participated in the initial investigations to uncover Chepiga and Mishkin’s real names, was not allowed into the press conference despite having been accredited.