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December 21, 2017 No.
7241

Vladimir Putin's Annual News Conference Part II: U.S. Congressmen Lack Common Sense

On December 14, Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in his 13th annual news conference. The event, lasting three hours and forty minutes, was attended by 1640 accredited journalists.[1]

Commenting on the news conference, Russian liberal journalist Igor Yakovenko wrote:

"There is Him, the country's founder, he is father, mother and defender. And there are the people, who adore him. All the rest, including the media, parliament members, judges and ministers, are just intermediaries, [white] walkers, supplicants and harmful barriers between the supreme leader and his population."[2]

Influential blogger Ilya Varlamov wrote:

"Next year in principle they can send a computer instead of Putin, which will generate answers via neuron nets. Putin's skill, in answering the question without actually answering, is quite familiar to all the journalists. Some people think that everything is staged there and all the questions are approved in advance. That's not so. There is no single uncomfortable question for the President. So, why bother getting advance approval? The press-conference is becoming a low-grade show... A pack of extremely unprofessional journalists and patent clowns try to draw some attention. People, who call themselves journalists, extend their gratitude and request some small perks."[3]

During the press conference, Putin discussed the state of Russia-U.S. relations and his personal view on U.S. President Donald Trump's policies. Putin claimed to be on a first-name basis with Trump, whom he credited with major objective achievements, recorded during the short period Trump has been in office. "Look at the markets, which have grown. This is evidence of investor trust in the U.S. economy. This means they trust what President Trump is doing in this area," .

Focusing specifically on Russia-U.S. relations, Putin said that Trump's initial intentions in foreign policy included improving relations with Russia. "It is clear that he has been unable to do this because of the obvious constraints, even if he wanted to. In fact, I do not know if he still wants to or has exhausted the desire to do this," 

Commenting on U.S. sanctions against Russia, Putin had harsh words for U.S. congressmen, whom he accused of lacking common sense. Putin stated: "You [Americans] are such interesting people. Have you noticed that members of U.S. Congress and Senate are so nice-looking and beautifully dressed in fancy suits and shirts? They seem to be intelligent people. They have put us on the same level with North Korea and Iran, and at the same time, they continue to prod the President to talk us into addressing the issues of North Korea and the Iranian nuclear program together with your country. What is the matter with you? You must agree that this sounds strange, and that it somehow goes beyond common sense."

Following are excerpts of Putin's answers on Russia's foreign policy:


Putin at the press conference (Source: Kremlin.ru)

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty And Start III Treaty

Putin: The U.S. Removed Sea-Launched Aegis Launchers From Warships And Deployed Them On The Ground

Sergei Brilyov: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. Sergei Brilyov from Rossiya 1 television channel…

"The foundation of what we had been accustomed to in international relations started crumbling long before the current aggravation of the geopolitical situation. The United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Then we failed to reach agreement on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. To our dismay, the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles also started swaying from side to side. Speaking of long-term prospects, it is unclear whether the START III Treaty will survive. Supposing that it also becomes destabilized, will this lead to a new arms race, which will require Russia to increase its defense spending? Will this affect current customary social payments, which is a frequent subject of discussion today? Thank you."

Vladimir Putin: "We did not withdraw from fundamental treaties that formed and still form the cornerstone of international security. We did not withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the United States did that unilaterally. We are now hearing talk about problems with the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles. It appears that conditions are being created, and the appropriate information is being promoted for a possible U.S. withdrawal from this Treaty, as well, all the more so as Washington has already withdrawn from it de facto. The United States is trying to reproach and accuse us of something, but what exactly has it accomplished? It has deployed systems, allegedly ABM systems, in Romania.

"And how did it deploy them? It has removed sea-launched Aegis launchers from warships and deployed them on the ground. But these ABM systems' missiles can be easily replaced with ordinary medium-range missiles. In effect, this process is already de facto underway. Nothing good will come of this trend if it persists. We have no intention of withdrawing from any document.

"The same is true of the START III Treaty. We can hear the United States say that it allegedly considers this treaty unprofitable and inappropriate. There is such talk. If this happens, and if the United States once again unilaterally withdraws from this treaty, then this would spell dire consequences in the context of preserving international stability and security.

"And now, I would like to say a few words about our defense spending. We know about these processes, we can see them, and we realize the possible consequences of specific actions. We will ensure our security without getting involved in an arms race.

Dmitry Peskov: "There was a second part. Let him have the microphone, please."

Sergei Brilyov: "Would not the growth of military spending lead to cuts in social funding?"

Vladimir Putin: "You know, our military spending is balanced by several substantive criteria.

"First, we must ensure our security.

"And, second, do this in a way that will not lead to an economic collapse. We take this approach.

"Just look: next year, for example we plan to spend 1.4 trillion rubles on purchases and 1.4 trillion rubles on maintenance, which makes 2.8 trillion rubles. This is slightly over 2.8 percent of the GDP. I named the absolute figures – 2.8 trillion. At the current exchange rate, that is slightly over $46 billion.

"The United States has signed into law a military spending bill for $700 billion. Compare $46 plus to $700 and feel the difference. Can our country afford that kind of spending? No, it cannot. But the $46 plus is enough for us. You could say that even this amount is too much.

"I am sure you know this popular adage: those who do not want to feed their own army will feed someone else's. It is an old one. But there are newer jokes. I occasionally tell you all sorts of jokes about this. I can tell you another one; it also has a beard, as we say, but it is more modern. A former military officer asks his son, 'Son, I had a dagger here. Have you seen my dagger?' The boy replies, 'Dad, don't be mad. I swapped it for a watch with the kid next door.' The officer says, 'Let me see the watch.' He looks at it and says, 'A good watch, good for you. You know, gangsters and robbers will come to our house tomorrow. They will kill me and your mother and will rape your elder sister, but you will come out to them and say: 'Good evening, Moscow time is 12.30'.' We do not want anything like that to happen, do we? So we will pay due attention to developing the army and the navy without getting involved in an arms race or ruining our budget."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) And The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)

Putin: 'How Are We Going To Manage Our Relations With The IOC And WADA? In A Constructive Way, I Hope'

Olga Bogoslovskaya: "Olga Bogoslovskaya, Match TV.

"Mr. Putin, I obviously have a question on sports, specifically, on the situation with the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. How do you see Russia's relations with these organizations? In addition, the current situation is really very tense and complicated. Can you think of a solution?"

Vladimir Putin: "Both some of my colleagues and I have said this before, this whole scandal was whipped up in the run-up to Russian domestic political events. No matter what anybody says – I am sure that is the way it is. No matter what they say, I know that this is so.

"But at the same time, and we have said this before, as well – we have ourselves to blame; we gave them a reason for this to start, since there actually were recorded cases of using performance enhancing drugs.

In other countries, however, there have been similar cases, except there was no such political frenzy. There is no doubt that this whole situation is politically motivated.

"There are other systemic issues in world sport. For example, some are permitted to take drugs for health reasons – the same drugs that are prohibited for other athletes – that were allegedly prescribed to them after surgery or due to medical conditions they have had since childhood.

"However, this is very odd, because this gives some athletes a competitive edge over others. But maybe these athletes that take drugs that others cannot should perform outside the competition or something like that, I don't know.

"I do not want to offend anyone or hurt anyone's feelings, because all athletes work hard, do their best and deserve respect. Nevertheless, there are rules in competition, and they must be respected, too.

"How are we going to manage our relations with the IOC and WADA? In a constructive way, I hope. We are going to continue working with them, to address the issues that we have, but, of course, defending the interests of our athletes at the same time, and in courts, too.

"I know that some international officials do not want this, but what can we do? We have to help our athletes defend their honor and dignity in the civil courts."

 

On Donald Trump's Policies


Putin at the press conference (Source: Ej.ru)

Putin: Why Should Meetings Between Russian Diplomats And U.S. Officials Take On The Nature Of Spy Mania?

Terry Moran: "Thank you, Mr. President. Terry Moran with ABC News.

"First, in the United States investigations by Congress, the Department of Justice and the media have uncovered a very large number of contacts between Russian citizens associated with your government and high officials of the Trump campaign. And some of those officials are now being prosecuted for lying about those contacts. All this is not normal. And many Americans are saying where there is that much smoke there must be fire. How would you explain to Americans the sheer number of contact between the Trump campaign and your government?

"And second, if I may. It has almost been a year since Donald Trump has been elected president. You praised Donald Trump during the campaign. What is your assessment of Donald Trump as president after one year? Spasibo."

Vladimir Putin: "Let us begin with the second part of your question. It is not for me to evaluate Donald Trump's work. This should be done by his electorate, the American people. But we do see some major achievements, even over the short period he has been in office. Look at the markets, which have grown. This is evidence of investors' trust in the U.S. economy. This means they trust what President Trump is doing in this area. With all due respect to President Trump's opposition in the United States, these are objective factors.

"There are also things he would probably like to do but has not been able to do so far, such as a healthcare reform and several other areas. By the way, he said his intentions in foreign policy included improving relations with Russia. It is clear that he has been unable to do this because of the obvious constraints, even if he wanted to. In fact, I do not know if he still wants to or has exhausted the desire to do this; you should ask him. I hope that he does and that we will eventually normalize our relations to the benefit of the American and Russian people, and that we will continue to develop and will overcome the common and well-known threats, such as terrorism, environmental problems, weapons of mass destruction, crises around the world, including in the Middle East, the North Korean problem, etc. There are many things we can do much more effectively together in the interests of our people than we are doing them now. Actually, we can do everything more effectively together."

Terry Moran: "How would you explain the connection between the government, your government, and the Trump campaign? How would you explain it to Americans?"

Vladimir Putin: (In English.) I see, I see. (In Russian.) You know that all this was invented by the people who stand in opposition to Mr. Trump to present his work as illegitimate. It seems strange to me, and I mean it, that the people who are doing this do not seem to realize that they are damaging the internal political climate in the country, that they are decimating the possibilities of the elected head of state. This means that they do not respect the people who voted for him.

"How do you see any election process worldwide? Do we need to ban any contacts at all? Our ambassador has been accused of meeting with someone. But this is standard international practice when a diplomatic representative and even Government members meet with all the candidates, their teams, when they discuss various issues and development prospects, when they want to understand what certain people will do after assuming power and how to respond to this. What kind of extraordinary things did anyone see in this? And why should all this take on the nature of spy mania?

"You have watched the investigation on social media. The share of Russian corporate advertising makes up less than 0.01 percent, with that of American companies totaling 100, 200 and 300 percent. It is simply incomparable. But, for some reason, even this is seen as excessive. This is some kind of gibberish.

"The same can be said about the situation with our media outlets, including RT and Sputnik. But their share in the overall information volume is negligible, as compared to the share of global US media outlets all over the world and in Russia. And this is seen as a threat. Then what about freedom of the media? This is actually a cornerstone, on which American democracy itself is based.

"All of us should realise that someone succeeds and someone does not. We need to draw conclusions from this and move on, instead of pouncing on one another like animals. We need to think about this and draw conclusions.

Putin-Trump Relations

Putin: 'Mr. Trump And I Are On A First-Name Basis But I Do Not Know If That Means We Would Use The Informal 'You'. Most Likely, We Would'

Dmitry Peskov: "Mr President, you know, I have received a text message accusing me of behaving towards Russia Today like the US Department of State by not giving them the floor. Russia Today, ask your question."

Vladimir Putin: "You are working for the U.S. Department of State. Outrageous! You will be punished."

Ilya Petrenko: "Mr Peskov, thank you very much.

"Good afternoon. My name is Ilya Petrenko. As Mr Peskov has already said, I represent the Russia Today TV channel.

"Mr. President, I was initially planning to ask you about your personal contacts with Donald Trump, but you spoke twice on that already. A little clarification: if the English language had a familiar and formal 'you', would you be using the familiar one by now?

"In response to one of the questions concerning the Americans, you mentioned the pressure on RT and Sputnik in America. The pressure continues. Russia is retaliating. First, how far is Russia prepared to go in its retaliatory measures. And second, but also very important, what effect can it have on freedom of speech in our country?

"And very shortly, one more topic. Today, a farmer in the Kurgan Region, a father of many children, was sentenced for illegal trafficking of special devices, for a GPS tracker that he attached to his cow. The case was returned to the prosecutor's office. He is now watching this news conference, his name is Yevgeny. Despite the fact that his case is still being considered. According to my data, more than 200 persons were sentenced on similar charges last year. What do you think about that?"

Vladimir Putin: "I did not quite understand. Do you mean that he was using GPS without paying for it?"

Ilya Petrenko: "He ordered the device from China and attached it to his cow because it strayed away from the herd."

Vladimir Putin: "Is this prohibited? This has to be paid for and he failed to pay, right?"

Ilya Petrenko: "There is a statute under which criminal charges can be brought against a person."

Vladimir Putin: "I do not even know that such an article exists. I will, by all means, take a look at the statute and the cases involving the persons you have mentioned, on what cannot be attached to a cow. This is the first time I am hearing about this. I know that GPS and GLONASS devices are attached to cats to prevent a cat from getting lost. I do not see why this should be a problem with a cow. Or else there is something he has to pay but has not done so, or he could have gone about it in a somewhat illegal fashion. This needs to be settled in some way, I will try to.

"As for the first part, Mr. Trump and I are on a first-name basis but I do not know if that means we would use the informal 'you'. Most likely, we would. Because even though do we not know each other very well – we met in passing only twice, and I believe we spoke on the telephone twice – generally speaking, people who do what our voters have entrusted us to do should have a good working relationship. I hope that step by step, he will also have an opportunity to establish contacts with Russia as a whole, and in doing so he will also keep his election pledges and follow his intentions."

Sanctions On North Korea

Putin: We Believe That N. Korea And The U.S. Need To Stop Ramping Up Tensions

Kate De Pury: "Kate De Pury, Associated Press.

"(In Russian): If I may, I will also ask my question in English.

"(In English): The U.S. wants Russia to do more to persuade North Korea to halt its missile programs. Would Russia support tougher sanctions against North Korea? And do you think that cooperation on North Korea could warm up US-Russia relations? Or have you lost hope of mending them under Mr. Trump? Thank you."

Vladimir Putin: "You are such interesting people. Have you noticed that members of U.S. Congress and Senate are so nice-looking and beautifully dressed in fancy suits and shirts? They seem to be intelligent people. They have put us on the same level with North Korea and Iran, and at the same time, they continue to prod the President to talk us into addressing the issues of North Korea and the Iranian nuclear program together with your country.

"What is the matter with you? You must agree that this sounds strange, and that it somehow goes beyond common sense. However, unlike some countries, our policy mostly lacks political time-serving considerations.

"We are trying to work constructively with everyone on the most topical issues in the area of international security. We are trying not to sulk and not to take offence with someone in response to decisions that we sometimes fail to understand.

"Regarding North Korea, our position is well known: we do not recognize North Korea's nuclear status. We believe that everything taking place there is counterproductive.

"I have already said this, and I would like to tell you once again that in 2005 the concerned parties came to an agreement with North Korea that it would terminate its nuclear weapons program. North Korea assumed certain obligations. Everyone agreed and signed these agreements.

"Only several months later, the United States decided that these agreements were not enough. The U.S. side promptly froze the accounts of North Korean banks and said that North Korea had to do something else outside the framework of these agreements.

"But North Korea decided not to bother and withdrew from all those agreements, and started developing its nuclear program once again. Why did you do that? Did you think this was not enough? Then why did you sign the agreements if you thought it was not enough? In reality, you provoked North Korea to withdraw. Later, the situation became aggravated even further with Libya and Iraq. I have spoken about this many times.

"North Korea sees no other means of self-preservation but to develop weapons of mass destruction and missile technology. As you can see, their upgraded missiles are now capable of hitting the United States. Is there anything good in this situation?

"We believe that both sides need to stop ramping up tensions. At one point, we heard from our American partners that they would stop military exercises. Well, they have conducted another exercise, and the North Koreans have launched their missiles yet again. This spiral has to end because it is an extremely dangerous thing.

"We have talked with our American partners. Supposing that the United States launches some strikes with high-precision non-nuclear weapons, what targets will be attacked? Do the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency know exactly what targets, and where, must be hit with one single strike?

"Of course, they do not because North Korea is a walled-in country. You know some things, and you have no idea about others. And even one North Korean missile launch would have disastrous consequences. I repeat, the consequences would be disastrous.

"Yes, the United States has already used nuclear weapons against Japan. I do not believe it was justified. Now there is absolutely no need for this. It is important to be very careful.

"Mr. Tillerson has recently said that the United States is prepared to establish direct contacts. This is a very good message showing that some changes are taking place among U.S. leaders and at the Department of State, and that they are coming to recognize certain facts, hopefully together with the U.S. intelligence community and the Pentagon.

"If we proceed on the basis of common sense, then we will, of course, cooperate with the United States on all such issues, including North Korea."

Russia-Poland Relations – On Poland's Defense Minister's Accusations Of Russia's Involvement In The 2010 Plane Crash Which Killed The Polish President Lech Kaczynski

Putin: 'We Are Tired Of This Bluffing'

Andrzej Zaucha: "Andrzej Zaucha, TVN TV company from Poland.

"Last year I asked you about the remnants of the presidential aircraft. I understand nothing has changed. But I would like you to clarify when we can expect the return of these remnants to Poland.

"My second question is closely linked with this. They promise us in Poland to publish a new report about this disaster in the near future. The Defense Ministry's commission is working on it. The new government is considering this.

"There are reports that there were explosions on board the aircraft, and the defense minister says he has evidence. His commission is working. And, of course, there are hints that not you personally but your people provoked or staged this disaster."

Vladimir Putin: "Listen, we are tired of this bluffing, just sick and tired. They have been giving us this nonsense, just blowing hot air. Let me remind you that at that time I was Prime Minister and as such, had very little to do with foreign political activities or any law enforcement and special services. Do not forget about this. That is my first point.

"Second, if there were explosions on board, where did the plane take off? Moscow or Warsaw? So, that is where the bombs were planted. Are they saying that Russian agents infiltrated the place to put explosives in there? They had better look in their own place.

"Finally, there were no explosions there. Both Polish and Russian experts have investigated the case thoroughly. They have studied in the most careful way all that was happening inside the cockpit: someone entered, and the pilot told them, 'We cannot land.' And that person replied, 'No, I am not even reporting this to him.' To whom? To the President, apparently. He ordered the plane to land. So they landed. An awful tragedy, and we grieved together with them. And now they have to wind everyone up, inventing things out of a clear blue sky. The same story was with the remains of that airplane.

"They do not have to invent anything. If there is a problem and a tragedy, one must treat this as a tragedy and not search for any far-fetched political motives. What for? Do you want to further complicate Russian-Polish relations? Why? To raise someone's domestic popularity?

"It seems to me that Russian-Polish relations are more important than the current internal political struggle in Poland between various forces that are quick to use any anti-Russian factor in this struggle. Turn this page, finally, and grow up. Become mature, meet the requirements of today and the interests of the Polish nation and the Polish people.

"Clinging to these problems and further degradation of Russian-Polish relations does not benefit Poland at all. Count your losses from the various sanctions that Poland has joined, the jobs lost, and the businesses that could have developed targeting the Russian market. We do not need anything from Poland. We want to develop relations with Poland. I hope this approach will prevail in Poland as well."

Russia In Syria

Putin: 'Our Military Tell Their American Partners: The Militants Went To A Particular Area. There Is No Reaction Whatsoever… Why? Because They Think That They Could Use Them, Probably, In Fighting Al-Assad'

Kseniya Golovanova: "Good afternoon, Mr. President. Kseniya Golovanova, Interfax. I would like to ask you about Syria. Mr Peskov, I will try to speak short.

"Taking into account the enormous number of contacts you have held lately on the Syrian settlement, what, in your opinion, are the main obstacles or hidden agendas preventing normalization in the country? Who should assume responsibility for restoring the infrastructure? Should or can?

"About our bases and what you have said about the defeat of ISIS in Syria, how do you see the role of these bases? Are you not worried that Western partners may see their presence as a tool to support Bashar al-Assad?

"And the last question: about your trip to Syria. It looked really cool. Please, tell us, when you decided to do it, did our Aerospace Forces play any role in making this trip happen? Or Syrian soldiers, maybe? And when will the withdrawal of our troops from Syria be completed? Thank you."

Dmitry Peskov: "If I may add, over there they have a Syrian flag with 'Our Victory' written on it."

Magomed Magomedov: "Thank you. Magomed Magomedov, Daghestan Republican Information Agency.

"In 1999, you were in Daghestan, where we defeated international terrorists that invaded the republic. Today almost the same thing happened in Syria. But I think that terrorism has not been defeated yet. Today the world sees you as a leader, a head of state who fights terrorism.

"Unfortunately, the experience the Americans demonstrate doesn't lead to anything. What are the chances of finding and taking out the people pulling the strings of these terrorist groups? This time it was ISIS, will there not be a new group tomorrow and so on? Thank you.

Arslan Khasavov: Mr. President, of course, it is good to be [Russian journalists] Andrei Kolesnikov or Sergei Brilyov, because it would be easier to attract attention, but also about Syria, shortly. I represent Uchitelskaya Gazeta, but I work in education and international journalism, in particular, I also visited Khmeimim Air Base this February…

Vladimir Putin: "You mentioned Kolesnikov. It is not difficult to be Kolesnikov, because everybody talks about him all the time. Say your name.

Arslan Khasavov: "Arslan Khasavov, Uchitelskaya Gazeta. Yes, I was the first Russian who came to Khmeimim Air Base on foot, as the staff told me…"

Vladimir Putin: "Where from?"

Arslan Khasavov: "I was made to get off a bus when trying to reach the Russians on my journey from Latakia to Tartus, to Homs and Damascus – such a detour. I wrote a series of articles about it."

Vladimir Putin: "That was dangerous. Where are you from, Daghestan?"

Arslan Khasavov: "I was born in Chechnya, but that is another story."

Vladimir Putin: "Only Chechen people can travel there on foot."

Arslan Khasavov: "Mr. Putin, I have visited the refugee camp in Homs. There are so many orphans there now. I was also in Istanbul, where I saw Syrian children virtually barefoot outside, begging and so on. And there are Syrian children in these refugee camps. However, there are no educational programs for them. I saw this with my own eyes. Humanitarian aid is being supplied.

"What is to become of these children in 10–15 years, no one knows. Maybe, now that you have declared victory over terrorism in Syria, is it time to think of organizing a truly humanitarian intervention, an educational one? I remember in Damascus, a Russian cultural center was working for many years, but now it is closed. And since I am also a graduate of the Institute of Asian and African Studies, just like your Press Secretary … Maybe you need someone like me, from Chechnya, if you ordered me to start and lead this work in Damascus, I would be prepared to live and work there for this purpose."

Vladimir Putin: "As far as I know, there is already a man from Chechnya who largely organizes this work, a Kadyrov, I think. He is now evacuating children from there, which is the right thing to do.

"But you are actually right, and I am not joking now. You are absolutely right – this is a problem, and Turkey certainly suffers the most, because most of the refugees are there, the largest camps are there. Yet, there are such camps in Jordan, and in other countries. We also know about the problem of migrants Europe is facing, and so on.

"Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to deal with this problem, and Syria will hardly be able to cope with it on its own. But I am not afraid of using these clichés: all people of goodwill around the world should understand that if we do not resolve this together, it will be their problem as well.

"You are absolutely right to raise concerns about these children and what will happen to them in a few years, if they do not receive proper education and grow up in a normal human environment. One of the main sources of terrorism is a low level of education and living standards. This is such an injustice, and one of the main sources of terrorism to date, and of course, we need to do something about it, we need to solve this problem.

"But Syria cannot cope with this alone. You know that Russia cannot cope with this alone either. Therefore, we are ready to participate, but only as one of the components of a common international effort. Thank you for your question and for your initiative.

"Really, joking aside, I do not rule out the possibility of your working there at some point. Just like our military police from the North Caucasus are working there now. I believe I already mentioned that it was my initiative to send people from the North Caucasus as policemen there, because they are mostly Sunni, and the local Sunni population trusts them.

"The authorities trust them too, because they are Russian servicemen, and the local people, regardless of their political affiliations, also trust them, because they are Sunnis. It is a win-win situation. First, the guys were very brave and disciplined, which is important. They were aware of their responsibility, and fulfilled their duty with dignity as they represented Russia's interests. However, this part is extremely important. So, the participation of our experts like you will be sought after.

"Now, about the trip. The need for such a trip was clear to me for a long time. The question was whether proper conditions would be in place. When will we be done getting rid of these terrorist gangs? And what will the situation be like there? Well, the situation is there, these bandit groups are being mostly dealt with, and such a decision was made.

"With regard to security, it was provided by our servicemen on the ground, too, because the specialists know that the most dangerous moments of such events include landing and take-off, when an airplane may be targeted by a MANPADS.

"However, the pilots, I looked, did not just fly side by side, they went below our plane during landing. The nozzles of combat aircraft warm up much more than the engines of a civilian aircraft, and they, in fact, were covering our aircraft. Then, we parted ways. Of course, I am grateful to them for that and I want them to know about it, to hear it. Although, I think, there was no need for that but, nevertheless they did what they did.

"What is the main obstacle that stands in the way of a final solution to the problem in Syria and fighting terrorism in general? Fighting terrorism in general is all about improving the level of education and well-being. And rectifying historical injustices in the Middle East and the world in general.

"In Syria and elsewhere, it is critical that all the participants in these processes, the global players, do not succumb to a desire or temptation to use various terrorist, quasi-terrorist, or radical groups to achieve their fleeting political goals.

"Al-Qaeda was created at some point to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and it ultimately struck New York on September 11. We can see it with our own eyes, our pilots can see it, and drones also show us the militants leaving, say, for Iraq. Our military tell their American partners: the militants went to a particular area. There is no reaction whatsoever. They are leaving, end of story. Why? Because they think that they could use them, probably, in fighting al-Assad. This is the simplest, but also the most dangerous thing to do, including for those who do it."

Iraqi Kurdistan

Putin: 'By Tradition, We Have Very Good, Trust-Based Relations With Both Kurdistan And The Kurds'

Question: "… I have a very brief question. I would like you to say a few words regarding Russia's attitude toward Iraqi Kurdistan at this stage. Also, how Russia intends to maintain relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. Thank you very much."

Vladimir Putin: "Look, what has happened in your case? You had an independence referendum. Then the leader of Kurdistan announced that the implementation of the decision made at the referendum should be postponed. This was not our decision, either. It is your decision. Then he resigned but the decision that implementation should be put on hold is still in effect. How should we respond to this? Our response should be that everything should proceed without any abrupt moves and within the bounds of existing law, with due respect for Iraq's territorial integrity, since Kurdistan's leadership has acted in the same way. What other options are there?

"Our companies, including Rosneft, are working in Iraq and in particular, in Iraqi Kurdistan. We believe that cooperation will benefit Iraq as a whole, Iraqi Kurdistan and the Russian economy. Generally, by tradition, we have very good, trust-based relations with both Kurdistan and the Kurds (I mean overall). I am aware of the entire complexity of this issue in the region, as well as of the wide-ranging nature of this complexity. However, taking all these delicate aspects into account, we act on the assumption that there is nothing to prevent us from developing our relations with the Kurdish people. This is what we will be doing."

Afghanistan

Putin: 'This Is One Area Of Work Where We Could Really Join Efforts With The U.S.'

Question: "Not long ago, you had a telephone conversation with Donald Trump in the course of which you discussed the situation in Afghanistan, including the growing terrorist and drug-trafficking threats. In this context, I would like know how you assess the prospects for cooperation with the United States in meeting these challenges in Afghanistan. Thank you."

Vladimir Putin: "This is one area of work where we could really join efforts with the United States. If we could work together here, these efforts could really be more effective.

"We see the growing threat in Afghanistan from international terrorists and we see that radical armed groups are taking control over more and more sections of the Afghan border in the north, bordering former Soviet republics. This applies to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Naturally, we are greatly concerned by this, considering, among other things, the presence of Russia's 201st Military Base in Tajikistan and an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. We are closely watching these developments. We see that the central government in Kabul needs support from the international community and we are ready to provide this support, as we did in previous years, including training national law enforcement and military personnel and supplying essential weapon systems and military equipment.

"Without economic aid, Afghanistan is unlikely to resolve all its problems, including combating drugs, drug production. As you know, unfortunately, it has to be said that Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of drugs, including hard drugs. Some of them get to the Russian market and this is definitely a cause for concern. Together with the Afghan government and the United States, as well as other governments concerned, we are ready to work to meet these challenges."

 

[2] Ej.ru, December 15, 2017.

[3] Varlamov.ru, December 14, 2017.