Thursday, December 18, 2014

Putin News Conference - Business Insider

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~A.



Putin Gave A Surreal End-Of-Year News Conference

REUTERS/Maxim ZmeyevPutin compared the invasion of Crimea to the US taking Texas from Mexico.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a three-hour news conference on Thursday, speaking about his country's economy and the collapse of the ruble.

The interview — which had a bunch of bizarre and clever moments — also addressed Russia's conflicts with the West.

Several English-speaking journalists, including Max Seddon of BuzzFeed and Paul Sonne of The Wall Street Journal, tweeted translations of Putin's statements, and NBC News carried a live stream with translation.

Here are some highlights:

  • Putin insisted that growth was "inevitable" and that Russia could dig out of its economic crisis in two years at most.
  • He refused to call the ruble's collapse a crisis, and he blamed it partly on sanctions from the West.
  • He said that regarding Ukraine, Russia was right and the West was wrong.
  • He compared the Russian invasion of Crimea to taking Texas from Mexico.
  • He implied that the US was aiming to disarm Russia and asked: "Do we want our bear to just become a stuffed animal?"

The Economy

The ruble weakened against the dollar just ahead of the news conference. Russia's currency has fallen over 40% against the dollar and the euro since June, hitting a record low of 80 rubles to the dollar and 100 rubles to the euro earlier this week.

Early on, Putin commented on Russia's currency crisis. He said it had been "provoked by external factors" and that the central bank and government were taking adequate measures to deal with the economic situation.

He also insisted that growth is "inevitable" and that Russia could dig out of the crisis in two years at most.

Putin said he is optimistic because he thinks the economy will eventually adjust to low fuel prices. He also said that Russia must step up efforts to diversify its economy so that Russia is not so reliant on oil.

Before discussing the ruble crisis, Putin opened on a higher note, citing 2014 gross-domestic-product growth of 0.6% and noting that Russia saw a record agricultural harvest despite turbulence in financial markets.

He later shied away from calling the ruble collapse a crisis.

"I don't think I can call the situation a 'crisis'; you can call it whatever you want," he said, adding that he thinks the central bank and government are taking the correct approach.

He also blamed Russia's economic situation partly on sanctions by the West over Ukraine, saying the sanctions are responsible for 25% to 30% of the ruble's problems.

Russia's economy is widely expected to fall into a recession next year because of collapsing oil prices and economic sanctions by the West.

Putin noted that the country's central bank has reserves of $419 billion, which he said is enough to maintain the "social situation" in Russia. He was also careful to say Russia would not drain its reserves trying to protect the ruble.

Despite the country's economic troubles, Russians still widely support Putin. His approval rating hit record highs this year, with 80% of Russians saying they support him.

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

The West

Putin also addressed tensions with the West.

"Our Western partners decided that they won and that they are an empire, and they began to squeeze everyone else out," he said.

He also referenced the Berlin Wall, saying that new "virtual" walls were being built through a NATO expansion.

"We want our partners to understand that the best way is to stop building those walls and to build a united humanitarian space," Putin said.

Putin later implied that the West is trying to disarm Russia.

He compared the country to a bear and said the West would "always try to put it in chains and ... take out its teeth and claws, which in this case means our strategic nuclear deterrent.

"Sometimes I think, maybe they'll let the bear eat berries and honey in the forest; maybe they will leave it in peace," he added. "They will not."

Putin concluded by asking: "Do we want our bear to just become a stuffed animal?"

When a journalist asked Putin about talk of a "new Cold War" brewing, Putin said that Russia had just been defending its interests, and he implied that the US was the aggressive party, not Russia. He insisted that Russia was not attacking anyone.

He then said the sanctions that had been imposed on Russia were "illegitimate and illegal."

Ukraine Defense Ministry

Ukraine

A Ukrainian journalist asked Putin how many soldiers Putin sent to Ukraine and what he told the families of dead soldiers.

Putin said Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine were volunteers and couldn't be called mercenaries because they were not paid. He also blamed Kiev for starting the conflict.

"The problem is that after the coup d'etat ... instead of starting a political dialogue, the new authorities started using law enforcement officers," Putin said. "When that didn't work out, they started using the army; when that didn't work out, they started using other means, such as an economic blockade."

Putin also said that regarding Ukraine, Russia was right and the West was wrong.

He didn't address how many Russian fighters were in Ukraine, nor did he give a death toll from the conflict.

Estimates put the number of dead at about 4,000 since fighting broke out between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in April. Kiev, Ukraine's capital, says Russia is supporting the separatists and has 10,000 troops on the ground.

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Crimea

Another journalist asked whether Russia's economic crisis was payback for the country's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Putin said the troubles with the ruble were not payback for Crimea, but rather "payback for our natural desire to survive as a nation."

"It's not a matter of Crimea — we are defending our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist," he said. "We should all understand this."

Putin also compared the invasion of Crimea to the US taking Texas from Mexico, saying Russia was just managing its territories and protecting its sovereignty.

REUTERS/Grigory DukorJailed Russian former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky stands in the defendants' cage during a court session in Moscow in this April 5, 2010, file photograph.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky

Putin was asked whether he regretted pardoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man and owner of the country's biggest oil company, because Khodorkovsky recently said he wanted to be president.

To that Putin replied, "President of which country?"

Putin said he ordered the pardon because Khodorkovsky's mother was ill, and a mother is a "sacred thing." He added that he didn't regret it. 

Khodorkovsky spent a decade in prison for fraud and was released last year.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/ReutersPutin shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

China

Putin said China is Russia's biggest trade partner and that there were no problems between the two countries.

He said the two have many common interests and have helped stabilize the international arena.

Putin added that Russia would seek to increase trade with China and noted that their trade balance with China would reach $90 billion this year.

He said Russia's gas deal with China would be beneficial for both sides despite the high costs.

Russia brokered the deal in an effort to become more independent from the West, given the sanctions that have hindered Russia's ability to develop energy reserves and raise finance abroad, Reuters reports.

REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin Putin speaks with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin, and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev during a meeting of the Security Council outside Moscow, Nov. 6, 2014.

A Possible Coup

A Reuters reporter asked Putin whether he thought a coup was possible in Russia.

Putin said he isn't worried, and that he would not be ousted, because Russians knew that he acted in the "overwhelming interest" of the majority of the population.

He noted that the Kremlin is well protected: "We don't have palaces, so there can't be any palace coups. We have the Kremlin, and it's well secured."

The reporter said that although Putin blamed the economic crisis on external forces, even those within his circle were known to blame Putin.

Putin, grinning, said: "Give me their names!"

Inequality

Putin insisted that there are not elites in Russia, and that while there are rich and poor, all people are equal.

"There is elite wine, resorts, but not people," he said. "Who is the Russian elite? The peasants, the hard workers."

Russia has notoriously high wealth disparity.

A report from Credit Suisse in 2013 said that Russia has the highest rate of income inequality in the world.

Watch the news conference in full:

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