Vladimir Putin’s 2016 End-of-Year Press Conference

Eric Zuesse

On Friday, December 23rd, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual four-hour press conference. His answers — both to internal Russian questions, and to questions about foreign affairs — displayed his intentions and goals, including the reduction of global warming, and increased cooperation between Russia and the United States.

The first questions focused upon the condition of Russia’s economy. He reported that it has now recovered almost completely from the economic sanctions that the West has placed against Russia for having accepted and implemented the 90%+ vote of Crimeans, on 16 March 2014, to become again (as they had been for hundreds of years until having been involuntarily transferred by the Soviet dictator to Ukraine in 1954) part of Russia.

Then (quoting now from the transcript), President Putin answered a question about U.S. President Barack Obama’s having blamed Putin for the publication of private Democratic National Committee information that might have helped to produce Trump’s victory over the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate (and Obama’s intended successor) Hillary Clinton. Here is what he said:

The current US Administration and leaders of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on outside factors. I have questions and some thoughts in this regard.

We know that not only did the Democratic Party lose the presidential election, but also the Senate, where the Republicans have the majority, and Congress, where the Republicans are also in control. Did we, or I also do that? We may have celebrated this on the “vestiges of a 17th century chapel,” but were we the ones who destroyed the chapel, as the saying goes? This is not the way things really are. All this goes to show that the current administration faces system-wide issues, as I have said at a Valdai Club meeting.

It seems to me there is a gap between the elite’s vision of what is good and bad and that of what in earlier times we would have called the broad popular masses. I do not take support for the Russian President among a large part of Republican voters as support for me personally, but rather see it in this case as an indication that a substantial part of the American people share similar views with us on the world’s organisation, what we ought to be doing, and the common threats and challenges we are facing. It is good that there are people who sympathise with our views on traditional values because this forms a good foundation on which to build relations between two such powerful countries as Russia and the United States, build them on the basis of our peoples’ mutual sympathy.

They would be better off not taking the names of their earlier statesmen in vain, of course. I’m not so sure who might be turning in their grave right now. It seems to me that Reagan would be happy to see his party’s people winning everywhere, and would welcome the victory of the newly elected President so adept at catching the public mood, and who took precisely this direction and pressed onwards to the very end, even when no one except us believed he could win. (Applause). …

About the interference, … the defeated party always tries to blame somebody on the outside. They should be looking for these problems closer to home. …

I think the most important thing is the information that the hackers revealed to the public. Did they compile or manipulate the data? No, they did not. What is the best proof that the hackers uncovered truthful information? The proof is that after the hackers demonstrated how public opinion had been manipulated within the Democratic Party, against one candidate rather than the other, against candidate Sanders, the Democratic National Committee Chairperson resigned. This means she admitted that the hackers revealed the truth. Instead of apologising to the voters and saying, “Forgive us, our bad, we will never do this again,” they started yelling about who was behind the attacks.

The outstanding Democrats in American history would probably be turning in their graves though. Roosevelt certainly would be because he was an exceptional statesman in American and world history, who knew how to unite the nation even during the Great Depression’s bleakest years, in the late 1930s, and during World War II. Today’s administration, however, is very clearly dividing the nation. The call for the electors not to vote for either candidate, in this case, not to vote for the President-elect, was quite simply a step towards dividing the nation. Two electors did decide not to vote for Trump, and four for Clinton, and here too they lost. They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame. I think that this is an affront to their own dignity. It is important to know how to lose gracefully.

But my real hope is for us to build business-like and constructive relations with the new President and with the future Democratic Party leaders as well, because this is in the interests of both countries and peoples.

A question was asked about government encouragement to domestic industries that can replace foreign imports now that the U.S. is imposing economic sanctions against Russia and so imports are reduced, and especially whether there should be some form of government support for an exporter that is donating “for the restoration of Orthodox churches”:

Vladimir Putin: I would like to thank those people who are engaged in such projects, helping to restore our historical and spiritual values. This applies not only to Orthodox churches, but also to synagogues, and to other religious buildings in all our traditional religions, including Islam, including Buddhists. Here in Moscow, by the way, there are problems with Buddhist temples, I am aware of it, and we will for sure help with that. …

import replacement is already bearing fruit. For instance in industry, our imports have declined by 10 percentage points, from 49-something, to 39 percent. This is a very serious change. We have made significant steps in import replacement for a variety of industries: the pharmaceutical industry, the chemical industry, the light industry, heavy machinery, and road machinery (nearly 100 percent Russian-made). We have major changes indeed. Let alone the defence industry, which has seen serious internal structural changes. This is especially important to our achieving technological independence.

About agriculture. We have discussed the increase in inflation over the past year. This year, with the growth of agricultural production, inflation has become significantly lower (for a number of other reasons, but due to improved agricultural performance as well). Therefore, I have no doubt that we will achieve the desired result. We are not going to be isolated. The Russian economy certainly has to be part of the global system if we want to grow – and we do want to grow and develop the high-tech sector. And this will happen.

A BBC reporter asked about the “danger of a new arms race” with the U.S.:

Vladimir Putin: The United States paved the way to a new arms race by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This is obvious. When one party unilaterally withdrew from the treaty and announced that it would be building a nuclear umbrella for itself, the other party either has to build the same umbrella (which seems unnecessary to us considering the questionable effectiveness of this programme), or develop efficient means of overcoming this missile defence system and improving its own missile strike system, which we are doing successfully. We did not concoct this. We have to respond to this challenge. …

if anyone is instigating this arms race, it is not us. …

We will never be dragged into an arms race to spend more than we can afford. I already said in my answers to several questions in the beginning that defence spending amounted to 2.7 percent of the budget in 2011 and 4.7 percent this year but next year we plan 3.3 percent and, eventually, 2.8 percent by 2019. We will maintain this bar because we have already taken some necessary measures to move towards modernisation that must bring us to the point where 70 percent of the armaments will be new and advanced by 2021. Now the advanced weapons amount to almost 50 percent, with around 60 in some segments and 90 percent in the nuclear segment. Therefore, we are satisfied with the current progress. …

An environmental reporter said “I believe that the West is no longer concerned about the environment,” and Putin replied:

I cannot agree with you that the Western countries, the United States and Europe, are paying less attention to protecting the environment than before. The best evidence of this is the efforts of the French President to promote the adoption of the Paris agreements on reducing atmospheric emissions. France did an enormous amount of work in this area and not without success. We agreed to limit emissions, and this was a complicated issue. Russia made fairly stringent commitments and I do not doubt that we will comply with them. …

Second, as for coal and its future as a primary source of energy, there is much talk about the need for a transition to alternative energy. By the way, Russia is moving in this direction, including hydrogen fuel, wind and solar power. We are working on all these issues. I have recently visited a RUSNANO company where this cutting-edge forward-looking technology is used.

At the same time, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the European Commission, for example, has decided to scale back subsidies in these areas. Why? Because it is very expensive. Of course, these technologies should be improved. But for now they are quite costly, and they are surely less efficient compared to traditional energy sources. Here is what I would like coal miners, as well as other colleagues, to hear: today more coal is used across the world than oil and gas combined. Well, maybe not necessarily oil and gas combined, but it is  certainly ahead of natural gas, and maybe even oil and gas combined. This goes to show that coal remains a key element in the global energy mix.

You were right to say that the latest technology should be used in order to make coal more eco-friendly.

President Putin was asked by a reporter from Ukraine, “Do you understand that if you retire someday, Ukrainians will still view Russians as occupiers?” He answered:

It would be good to begin by making sure that the Ukrainian army is not viewed as an occupying force in Donbass, which is Ukrainian territory. This is what matters. This is my first point.

Later, Putin said, “The foreign ministers of three European countries — France, Germany abd Poland — … supported this anti-constitutional coup [in Ukraine in February 2014]. This resulted in the people in Crimea wanting to reunite with Russia, Ukraine losing Crimea, and the sad, tragic and bloody events in Donbass.”

[He was referring there to this coup, which the EU knew about but hadn’t actually perpetrated (Obama did that, and his agent, Victria Nuland, informed the U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine, on 4 February 2014, to have Arseniy Yatsenyuk lead the post-coup government, which happened 18 days later — “Yats” won the appointment).]

A question was asked about Russia’s relations with Turkey after the 24 November 2015 Turkish shoot-down of a Russian plane over Syria, and President Putin said that the assassination on 19 December 2016 of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish policeman has fundamentally altered his views regarding whether Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan had been involved in that aircraft-shoot-down:

I was sceptical about the idea that our aircraft was downed without the order of the Turkey’s top leadership [Tayyip Erdogan] but by people who wanted to harm Russian-Turkish relations. But now after the gun attack on the ambassador, which was committed by a riot police officer, I am beginning to change my mind. Now it seems to me that anything is possible.  …

Will it obstruct the development of Russian-Turkish relations? No, it will not, because we understand the importance and role of Russian-Turkish relations and will do everything to develop them with due account of Turkish interests and, no less important, Russian interests. During the past year, or to be more precise, after the normalisation, we managed to find compromise. I hope we will be equally successful at finding compromise in the future, too.

Now a few words about Aleppo. Indeed, the President of Turkey and the President and all leaders of Iran in general played a very large role in resolving the situation around Aleppo. This involved exchanges and unblocking several areas with a Shiite majority. Perhaps this will sound immodest but this would have been simply impossible without our participation, without Russia’s participation.

So, all this cooperation in the trilateral format definitely played a very important role in resolving problems around Aleppo. Indicatively, and this is extremely important, especially at the last stage, this was achieved without military action, as the Defence Minister just reported to me about this work at the final stage. We simply organised and carried out the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, and not only radical armed groups and their representatives but also women and children. I am referring to the over 100,000 people who were evacuated from Aleppo. Thousands were moved out of other residential areas in exchange for this withdrawal from Aleppo.

This is the biggest – and I want to emphasise this for all to hear – the biggest international humanitarian action in the modern world. It could not have been carried out without the active efforts of the Turkish leadership, the Turkish President, the President of Iran and all other Iranian leaders, and without our active participation. Needless to say, this would not have been achieved without the goodwill and efforts of Mr Assad, the President of the Syrian Arab Republic, and his staff.

A question was asked about Russia’s system of taxation, and Putin replied:

Let us begin with the 13-percent personal income tax. Of course, you are aware that when we introduced the flat rate of 13 percent in 2001, there were lots of doubts. I, too, had many doubts. I was concerned that the budget would lose revenue, because those who earn more would pay less, and whether there would be social justice, and so on.

I have already mentioned it several times, but, as I see, I should say it again. The outcome of introducing a flat 13-percent personal income tax was that personal income tax collection has increased by a factor of seven. Those funds go to the treasury and are then distributed to address social issues – this is what social justice is all about.

Can a differentiated [progressive — with higher percentage-rates on larger incomes] individual income tax system be introduced? It can. Maybe that will be done one day, but right now I do not think it would be sensible, because as soon as we do this, the first step would be followed by the second, third and fifth, we would get entangled in this differentiation and in the end this would lead to tax evasion, and budget revenues would decline.

Regarding social justice, it can be achieved by other means, without changing the flat tax system. How? Such decisions have already been taken. This applies, for example, to raising the tax on expensive transport vehicles [such as cars]. This has already been done, and the system can be fine-tuned. Raising the tax on expensive property. That has also been done, and the system can also be fine-tuned, and so on.

A question concerned energy-supplies to Crimea; he replied:

Even now, with peak loads, especially in winter, Crimea consumes 1,200 to 1,300 megawatts, of which 800 megawatts were formerly supplied by Ukraine. Presently, Crimea produces approximately 1,000 to 1,100 megawatts. Together with mobile power plants we have supplied, total output is slightly below 1,300 megawatts. After gas comes – and, I repeat, it will come within the next two or three days, huge amounts of Russian gas – the construction of two power plants will begin in Crimea, each 470 megawatts. This means that total production will approach 2,000 megawatts – 1,900 to 1,950, to be precise. If peak consumption is 1,100 to 1,200 megawatts, we see that approximately 800 megawatts will constitute a reserve for Crimea’s economic development. It is a considerable amount for the development of the economy, industry, agriculture, recreation and tourism, that is, hotel construction, upgrading infrastructure, and so on. This is a significant event for Crimea. I hope we will make its people happy quite soon.

A question was raised about the tension between two goals: protecting children, versus harming children by taking them away from abusive parents:

“Mr President, on February 9, 2013 you attended a meeting of parents in the Hall of Columns. You said there that juvenile justice of the Western type would not be introduced in Russia without a broad public discussion. I can tell you – I know this because I also head a human rights centre – that we have a system of juvenile justice that is almost as tough as in Scandinavia.

“An amendment was adopted in July after you had requested that Article 116 be decriminalised. However, this was done in a very strange manner, by introducing a formula, “close relatives,” which is a form of discrimination from the viewpoint of the Constitution. There is now a new provision with regard to bodily blows made by “close relatives.” Today, if a father slaps his child for misbehaving, which is a traditional form of punishment in Russia, he can get a two-year sentence, but if a neighbour does the same, he will be fined.

“When you attended our meeting back then, we collected 180,000 signatures against the system of juvenile justice. As of now, we have collected 213,000 signatures for stopping juvenile practices in Russia under which children are taken from parents in poor families and the law can intervene in family life without good reason. And all these people ask you to meet with parents again. These parents are now standing behind me and asking you for a meeting.”

Putin answered:

Well, I think we should not slap children and justify it based on some old traditions. Neither parents, nor neighbours should do this, although this sometimes happens. There is a short distance from slaps to beating. Children fully depend on adults; they are the most dependent members of society. There are many other ways to bring children up without slapping.

On the other hand, we should be reasonable too, because actions such as you describe destroy families. Like you, I am against such distorted forms of juvenile justice. Frankly speaking, I believed that my instruction had been fulfilled. The State Duma Speaker has updated me on this only recently, and he said that the related amendments had been approved. Let us discuss this issue once again. I promise to look at this matter and to analyse the situation. Unceremonious interference in family matters is unacceptable. As for what happens in the family, let us talk about this later.

He was asked about his having, for three of the 85 regional governors in Russia, overridden the local authorities, and installed someone of his own choosing instead:

My goal is the well-being of Russia. How can we achieve this? …  Proper people are needed to do this. …  An overwhelming majority of the Russian Federation regions are governed by people from those regions, an absolute majority. But there are occasions when the elite needs new blood. That is evident. To that matter, the regions’ population demand a certain replacement of the regional elites.

You mentioned two or three names, but even the latest changes concerned more people. What about Gaplikov, appointed to Komi? And what about the Kirov Region appointment? They are all young enough, and efficient. And what about the new head of Sevastopol? They are all energetic, young and, to my mind, promising leaders, who have shown good results. So selections are made according to personal and career qualities, which give grounds to expect that these people will cope with their duties. I very much count on this.

As for their prospects, it depends on them and on the public’s opinion of their work. Mr Dyumin had worked for six months, I think, in the Tula Region before 85 percent voted for him. That was a good achievement, but it is not enough. Now he should prove his worth in practical work. The same concerns my other colleagues, starting with Sevastopol, the Kirov Region or Yaroslavl.

I talked recently with a legendary person, [the first woman cosmonaut Valentina] Tereshkova. She said: “How wonderful it was! Thank you very much for finding such a man for our Yaroslavl.” Such are the first indications of the right man for the problems he will address. Thank God! I wish them every success in their work, for the good of the people of these regions.

A reporter, Andrei Kolesnikov, from the major financial newspaper in Russia, Kommersant, had this exchange with Putin:

Mr President, how would you respond to this question: why should you necessarily become the President of Russia again in 2018? And what would be your response to this question: why should you not, under any circumstances, become the President of Russia?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: He is some kind of provocateur.

Andrei Kolesnikov: As usual.

Vladimir Putin: He does this all the time.

This is an exercise in futility. My response will be standard. When the time comes I will see what is going on in Russia and in the world. Based on what we have done, what we can do and how we can do it, a decision will be made regarding my participation or nonparticipation in the presidential election in the Russian Federation.

A question was raised regarding the appropriateness, or not, of the Russian government’s having expressed a view regarding a recently hot issue of Russia’s history. He replied:

You know, I have met with Mr Mikhalkov, Valentin Yumashev and Tatyana Dyachenko, and we discussed the issue. Perhaps there are matters that require, let us say, careful consideration. They are related primarily to the way information about the history of Russia is presented; not only its recent history, from the beginning of perestroika to the present, but history as a whole, in the broad sense of the word. My colleagues agreed with me that there is probably a need to put certain things into focus.

But in general, do you know what I object to? I am against endlessly blowing up these issues. There is nothing wrong with the fact that this discussion is unfolding. This is perfectly normal. Some people take a positive view, some take a more liberal position on the ongoing events and prospects for development, while others are more conservative, more traditionalist. We have always had our national loyalists and Westernists. Some people consider themselves to be national loyalists. However, as we recall the events of 1917, as we are to observe the centennial of the revolutionary events next year, in 2017, we should move toward reconciliation, rapprochement, not toward division, not toward inflaming passions. This is what I would say in response to your question.

Then, Ekaterina Vinokurova, of the human-rights and anti-corruption website znak.com had an extensive exchange with him, in which she cited the contradictions between some of his promises and his subsequent inaction on them. He challenged her; she offered “I will provide examples”:

Vladimir Putin: Do please.

Ekaterina Vinokurova: For example, our good comrades nodded their heads when you said in your Address that responding aggressively is inadmissible and the wrongdoers must be punished. Here in St Petersburg, a colleague of mine, a photographer from Kommersant, David Frenkel, was beaten up by someone from NOD.

Vladimir Putin: From where?

Ekaterina Vinokurova: NOD: the National Liberation Movement led by Evgeny Fyodorov, which acts under openly aggressive slogans calling for cleansing the government, and so on.

Or, for example, the Sorok Sorokov movement, who claim to be Orthodox Christians, but, in fact, preach views that make other people turn away from the Orthodox Church. They were very aggressive in defending the construction of a church that was opposed by the locals, also believers, by the way. They insulted the people to the point where the locals began to respond, and then they wrote a complaint about offence of the feelings of believers. All of that despite your repeated statements about the consolidation of our society and that the ties that bind our society have to do with reconciliation rather than aggression.

Or, for example, you mentioned in the Address that we are sensitive to injustice, lies and self-serving interests. For instance, we see that the great Igor Sechin … Vedomosti found out that he is about to build a house in Barvikha, and Igor Sechin, instead of building a more modest house, because he is an employee of a state-owned corporation in a poor country, sues Vedomosti and demands that the entire circulation be destroyed.

Another example (I am nearly finished). During a news conference several years ago, you said that you were in favour of electing mayors. Mr Putin, are you aware that mayoral elections in major cities were canceled 18 months later? The question is simple: Mr Putin, your elite is openly challenging you. They nod approvingly to everything you say, tell you how great and wonderful you are – and everyone …

Vladimir Putin: Stop, stop right there. (Laughter)

Ekaterina Vinokurova: This is a simple and straightforward question, Mr Putin. Why is it that you say one thing, but in practice we see, too often, something different? Is this some kind of creeping coup?

Secondly, my request. Mr Putin, RBC reporter Alexander Sokolov has been kept in a pre-trial detention centre for more than 18 months now. The charge that we hear in court is delusional and makes no sense whatsoever. We do not see any fairness on behalf of the security officers, judges, nor do we have any hopes for justice.

There’s another case of a woman named Evgeniya Chudnovets, who posted on VKontakte [social network] a video showing a boy being bullied and asked the police to do something about it. She was put behind bars for that and was sentenced to real time in prison. Mr Putin, please, we have to do something about the sadistic skew of our justice. Please, we must save these people. Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: About the prosecution bias in justice in Russia. You know, we have recently taken a lot of decisions aimed at humanising our legislation. This applies to criminal law, to administrative offenses, and additional measures are being taken now. These are fundamental things that we are doing consciously, and we will continue this work.

As for someone expressing extreme views or acting radically – Russia is a large and complicated country, you know. Some would radically defend liberal values and organise provocative exhibitions, and they say they are doing it deliberately to draw attention to their actions, to their art. Here, too, there must be moderation, right? There must be moderation in all things. The same can be said about the so-called patriots. I said we would support patriotic movements, assuming there is no distortion. The balance of things should be determined within society.

As for the specific persons you mentioned, I have to be honest, I have never even heard of them. I will look it up, I promise, I have no idea if their verdicts were fair or not.

About the construction projects implemented by business representatives, including those from state-owned companies, the extravagant-looking real estate – I agree with you, they need to be more modest, you are right. I told them so many times and I hope they will hear me. This also concerns their bonuses, their incomes. Even if the law allows it, they need to understand the country we live in, and try not to annoy people.

As for the various claims you mentioned, after all, it is up to the court to decide if it is a fair claim or not. If an individual goes to court seeking protection of their business reputation, honour and dignity, the court shall determine the degree of guilt or lack thereof. As far as I know about the case, Sechin claimed several billion or something like that from RBC. The court agreed that he was right, but the amount was 360,000, truly insignificant. Nothing terrible actually happened. But I must say that people often come to me, I mean, prominent figures in culture and the arts, people with very different views, by the way, and complain about journalistic terror against them – yes, of persecution, seizure, of their children being terrorised.

I would like to ask you and your colleagues, please, please be more discreet, do not interfere in the personal, private lives of public figures, artists, athletes and other such people. We all need certain rules developed, and we need to adhere to these rules on the basis of a sufficiently high cultural level in our country.

Then Putin was challenged by Natalia Galimova from the daily newspaper, RBK (or “RBC”) (the English online version of which is Russia Behind the Headlines):

Igor Sechin is actively suing the media: Novaya Gazeta, Vedomosti, RBC, Forbes magazine. The outcome of the court cases has always been the same. Igor Sechin wins lawsuits, while courts, with very rare exceptions, order that the articles that are the objects of his discontent be removed from websites or, with regard to Vedomosti, for example, that its entire circulation be destroyed. Do you believe that such rulings set a dangerous precedent, legitimising the suppression of information that may not be to someone’s liking?

Vladimir Putin: Do you have a problem with Sechin, the courts or the unreliability of your own information? You know, all of this requires careful consideration. Sechin, as well as other people who go to court – what are they supposed to do to defend their honour, dignity and business reputation? Are they supposed to come and fight you with a stick or what? They go to court, just as in any civilised society. How objective these rulings are, frankly, I do not know. He sued RBC for 3 billion, but the court ordered RBC to pay him 300,000. This 300,000 is a paltry amount for RBC. I do not think that it will seriously affect the holding’s financial and economic operation. However, to look at this from a somewhat unexpected angle, generally it is good that the press keeps bureaucrats and representatives of big business, including companies with state participation, on their toes. However, this should be done only within the bounds of the law.

Natalya Galimova: But what about the decision to destroy publications?

Vladimir Putin: Frankly, I cannot pass judgment. If this decision is based on law, is within the bounds of law, well, then it should be carried out.

Natalya Galimova: May I ask an important question about taxes?

Vladimir Putin: About taxes, please.

Natalya Galimova: In your Address, you issued instructions to the Government to draft proposals on adjusting the tax system after 2018. How do you envision the tax system after 2018? And what will be your response to decisions or proposals to raise taxes on businesses or individuals?

Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: You know, in 2014 we resolved not to raise taxes on businesses. This is precisely what is happening. Despite the numerous proposals from different agencies to make an exception, we refrained from increasing the tax burden on businesses. In addition, we not only avoided increasing the tax burden, but also introduced an array of preferential tax regimes, say, for small and medium-sized businesses.

Now we are considering the possibility of exempting self-employed individuals from all payments for a certain period so that they can become legal, set up their business and see that it runs smoothly. These are important, significant steps.

We are also considering priority development areas and other tax regimes. We are talking about a special tax procedure in agriculture, where there are two possibilities of reducing tax payments – importantly, reducing them legally. We are talking about reducing deductions to social funds for high-tech businesses, including small ones, which, at the end of the day, is key to growth in the IT sector of the Russian economy. We have addressed all of that, and I believe to good effect.

Indeed, in 2018, all of this will come to an end. And today all together we should develop a plan for our work in this area for the next four years, calmly and efficiently, with the involvement of the Government and the expert and business communities, and, I hope, with the participation of RBC, since RBC specialises in analysing what is going on in business (sometimes I watch your programmes; you have very good experts). After a discussion and a final decision, we will ensure a favourable business environment for at least the next four years.

Then a reporter asked, “You commented on the visa-free entry to the EU for Ukrainian citizens. The same travel regulations will apply to Georgia. Would you say that your comment on Ukraine also applies to Georgia, because Europe will open visa-free entry for the citizens of Georgia sooner than Russia? Thank you.” Putin replied:

Your phrasing at the end was tricky, you know. I actually said that visas in Europe are an anachronism. Whether we are talking about Ukraine or Georgia, I believe that everyone should travel visa-free.

As for Russia and Georgia, travel restrictions were introduced for a reason, not for the fun of it, after the conflict. I would like to note, though it might seem trivial, that we are not the ones to blame. We did not start the fighting in South Ossetia. But anyway, we all need to think about normalising relations, and I do not rule out returning to a visa-free regime for Georgian citizens in Russia. It seems to me that there is good reason for that, as we now see certain signals from individual authorities in Georgia.

A reporter asked: “When do you expect to meet with Donald Trump? What strategic issues will be on the agenda at the first and the following meetings? What do you expect? Thank you.” Putin answered:

It is difficult to say now. First of all, the newly elected US President needs the opportunity to put his team together. Without this, I believe, unprepared meetings are quite meaningless.

What issues will be on the agenda? Issues that concern putting our relations back on track. During his election campaign, Mr Trump said that he considered it appropriate to normalise Russian-American relations. He also said that the situation would not be worse, as it cannot get any worse. I agree with him. So, together we will think about how to make things better.

There was very little coverage of the press conference, by Western ‘news’ media, and the little that there was was hostile (or, at best, snide), as was summarized On December 23rd in the U.S. military contractors’ (etc.) propaganda magazine, Foreign Policy, under the headline “Vladimir Putin to the Press: ‘Love Quickly Turns to Hate’”.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

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