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9 things you need to know from Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year Q&A session

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President Putin has just conducted another marathon end-of-year Q and A sessions with Russian and international journalists. Putin covered a wide variety of issues on both foreign and domestic policy matters.

Here are the key points to takeaway.

1. Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)

President Putin was asked several questions about the speed and efficacy of EAEU integration. Putin responded positively saying that all member states including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Belarus, have been working closely to modernise both physical and digital infrastructure across member states. This includes the ability to receive and track items via digital customs forms as well as joint investment projects.

Putin noted that the aggregate growth rate of the EAEU is even higher than that of the Russian Federation in isolation, which is proof positive of the fact that cooperation is mutual beneficial, while based on a model that does not threaten the sovereignty of any member state (a charge commonly levelled against the European Union).

He also responded positively to a question from a Kazakh journalist about using news media to help inform the public about the progress of the EAEU, before mentioning that far from being a reaction to EU sanctions, the EAEU was the brainchild of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev–one which predates the post-2014 sanctions from the west.

With Iran set to join the EAEU in 2018, President Putin’s positive response signifies Russia’s general optimism about the future of its role as a Eurasian leader.

Iran to join Eurasian Economic Union – diplomatic sources

2. North Korea 

President Putin stated that Russia does not accept the nuclear status of North Korea, but that one must work with a realistic attitude to de-escalate tensions in the region.

Putin also roundly condemned US provocations, questioning why this could be reasonably expected to improve the situation.

He once again referenced his analogy to Iraq and Libya, saying that when Pyongyang saw how the US destroyed two countries without the means to protect themselves, North Korea took the logical step to implement measures to do so. Putin further reminded journalists that the situation was exacerbated by the unwillingness of the US to engage in constructive talks in the past with Pyongyang which could have produced a lasting treaty for peace and de-escalation.

Putin then said that Rex Tillerson’s recent statements, indicating that Washington may be willing to discuss the matter directly with Pyongyang was a positive development, even though Washington seemed to negate Tillerson’s statement within 24 hours of him making it.

3. Syria 

Putin stated that he “had to” go to Syria in order to make his announcement regarding a partial troop withdrawal. He stated that most of the terrorist groups in Syria have been defeated and security issues involving his trip were coordinated with Russian troops in Syria in a highly professional manner.

Putin however stated that further work must still be done to destroy that which remains of the terrorist threat in Syria. He said that increasing the welfare of people is crucial to prevent terrorist in the future. Turning to the peace process, the Russian President stated,

In Syria, all the parties involved should resist the temptation to take advantage of short-term political goals.

We see that terrorists are escaping Syria to Iraq and the US doesn’t hit them because they may want to use them later against (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad… That’s very dangerous”.

Putin further stated that while working with international partners, including the Syrian government as well as Turkey and Jordan, it is important to help actual Syrian refugees return to their homes in a post-conflict environment. He further stated that children of Russian citizens brought to Iraq and Syria by terrorists, should be re-integrated into the social life of various republics and regions of the Russian Federation.

4. Ukraine/Donbass conflict 

Putin lamented the unwillingness of the Kiev regime to implement the protocols of the MINSK II accords. He further lamented that even when the Rada (parliament) in Kiev approved a special status for Donbass in-line with MINSK II, Kiev’s forces continue to act aggressively.

He then stated that because of this, it is important that the militias of Donbass are able to defend themselves. Putin also said that he remains confident that even without Russian assistance, they will be able to do so and that it was necessary for the people of Donbass to remain armed so as to avoid a “massacre” at the hands of Kiev’s troops, ultra-nationalist (neo-Nazi) volunteers and pro-Kiev mercenaries.

Turning to the power struggle in Kiev between regime leader Petro Poroshenko and former Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, he called the former Georgian leader who is wanted as a criminal in his home country “pathetic”. He asked rhetorically why people from Ukraine aren’t able to produce a prospective new leader themselves?

He then talked of the united history of the Slavic people and how the medieval Rus formed their first state in Kiev. He mentioned that central regions of what is now Ukraine rejoined the Russian Empire in 1654 and that after wars with Ottoman Turkey, other areas (Novorossiya and Crimea) became incorporated into Russia. These areas along with parts of former Polish governed regions in the west were added to Soviet Ukraine in 1945. Putin then remarked that the 1954 transfer of Soviet Crimea to Soviet Ukraine was in fact illegal according to the Soviet laws of the era.

The conclusion that Putin drew was that while most Russians and Ukrainians see themselves as part of a wider fraternal nation, the future is up to people in Ukraine, in respect of how they would like to govern themselves. If they choose to remain totally separate from Russia, this is their choice and they will have to work to improve their conditions themselves if this is the final decision of Ukrainians.

5. Relations with China/One Belt–One Road 

President Putin stated that he welcomes the decisions taken by the ruling Communist Party of China in terms in further modernisation programmes and an increased emphasis on respectful cooperation with international partners via the One Belt–One Road initiative.

He further stated that Chinese model is similar in many ways to that which Russia is currently building internally and among Russia’s international partners.

Putin praised the fast growth of the Chinese economy and credited them to good decisions made by President Xi Jinping and his predecessors. He called China a “strategic partner of Russia” and said that Russia and China have $63 billion in trade turnover. Putin expressed his optimism that this figure is likely to increase in the very near future.

Putin stated that the EAEU and One Belt–One Road are compatible and that Russia seeks to participate in broader cooperation in Asia and that progress has been made in this area all the time.

He further stated,

“China is part of some major projects in the Arctic, we’ve just launched the first stage of the Yamal liquefied natural gas project – China is a major investor.

…We have another great project on high-speed transit, we support high-speed transit from China to Europe via Russia.”

Finally, Putin stated that irrespective of the restults of next year’s Presidential election in Russia,

“I have full confidence that cooperation with China is beyond any political agenda – we’ll remain strategic partners for a long period of time”.

6. 2018 Russian Presidential elections 

Vladimir Putin confirmed for the first time that he plans to run in the 2018 Russian Presidential elections (scheduled for March) as an independent candidate. He stated that he looks forward to engaging in dialogue with many political parties in the hopes of winning their endorsement.

Later he was asked a question directly by Ksenia Sobchak, a Presidential hopeful in the 2018 elections, but not a candidate who is widely regarded as serious. The main challengers to President Putin’s incumbency will be Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPSU) leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russian (LDPR) founder and leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

However, because Sobchak has attained her fame through being a so-called ‘socialite’, much attention has been on her.

President Putin however took her to task, saying,

“I said the opposition needs positive proposals – what are you offering?

…The people you mentioned (including Aleksey Navalny) are the Russian versions of Mikhail Saakashvili… Do you want Russia moving from one Maidan-style situation to another?

…Most Russians don’t want that”.

7. US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

President Putin remarked on the unfortunate results of the US unilaterally withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) but said that Russia remains committed to the principles of the treaty in line with Russia’s commitment to international protocols.

He stated that when the US puts missiles close to Russia’s borders, particularly on Russia’s European borderlands, Russia will respond by taking appropriate measures in respect of defensive military mechanisms within Russia’s borders.

8. Russiagate/Donald Trump

US based ABC news asked President Putin about the ongoing ‘Russiagate’ scandal with Donald Trump, which in reality ought to be called Israelgate due to the fact that Israeli’s Prime Minister colluded directly with Trump transition team officials, in order to try and influence the foreign policy of other nations and the UN itself. While President Putin stayed clear of this issue, he said the following:

“It’s up to the American people to assess Trump, not me. But look at the markets, they are up, indicating investors trust him. We also respect the US opposition. I don’t know if Trump still has the same desire to cooperate closely with us, but I hope we can work closely on a range of issues.”

Turning to so-called Trump collusion with Russia, Putin said,

“That’s been invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump. These people don’t understand they are undermining their own country, they aren’t showing respect for Americans that voted for Trump”.

Finally, turning to contacts between Russian diplomats and Americans, the Russian President stated,

“It is standard practice for diplomats to talk – what’s so strange about this? Why do you have this ‘Russia spy hysteria?”

Vladimir Putin: Russiagate “invented by those aiming to de-legitimize Trump”

9. 2018 World Cup 

Putin stated that Russia has a long history of successful experiences in hosting international sporting events. He further stated that all major public infrastructure projects related to the World Cup, including the 12 World Cup stadiums in 11 Russian cities are on schedule, except for one stadium that has a 2 month delay.

Nevertheless, Putin stated that everything will be accomplished on time.

Vladimir Putin then stated that the funding for World Cup facilities is half drawn from public funds and the other half from private investors.

Other areas covered:

–There are no plans to increase taxation.

This issue will be considered again at the end of 2018

–Russia will not ban abortions 

On this issue Putin stated,

“…in most modern countries today, it is up to the woman to make this decision.

If there was a total ban, we’d eventually have a criminal trade in this – women would go abroad, there would be illegal abortions… it does immense damage to women’s health, so we have to be careful….We are willing to support pregnant women, of course”.

–Afghanistan

Russia is willing to cooperate with international partners, including the US over security concerns in Afghanistan.

–Nuclear war 

President Putin said that he felt the US decision to drop nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945 was something he disagrees with.

–Iraqi Kurds 

Putin stated that Russia has good relations with Iraq and also good relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region. He said that he expects Kurdish leaders to respect the decisions of the Iraqi government and that he does not foresee anything drastic happening from this point forward.

Now sit down (comfrotably) and watch 3 hours and 42 minutes of Vladimir Putin taking questions from Russian and international journalists

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Photos of new Iskander base near Ukrainian border creates media hype

But research into the photos and cross-checking of news reports reveals only the standard anti-Russian narrative that has gone on for years.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Fox News obtained satellite photos that claim that Russia has recently installed new Iskander missile batteries, one of them “near” to the Ukrainian border. However, what the Fox article does not say is left for the reader to discover: that in regards to Ukraine, these missiles are probably not that significant, unless the missiles are much longer range than reported:

The intelligence report provided to Fox by Imagesat International showed the new deployment in Krasnodar, 270 miles from the Ukrainian border. In the images is visible what appears to be an Iskander compound, with a few bunkers and another compound of hangars. There is a second new installation that was discovered by satellite photos, but this one is much farther to the east, in the region relatively near to Ulan-Ude, a city relatively close to the Mongolian border.

Both Ukraine and Mongolia are nations that have good relations with the West, but Mongolia has good relations with both its immediate neighbors, Russia and China, and in fact participated with both countries in the massive Vostok-2018 military war-games earlier this year.

Fox News provided these photos of the Iskander emplacement near Krasnodar:

Imagesat International

Fox annotated this photo in this way:

Near the launcher, there is a transloader vehicle which enables quick reloading of the missiles into the launcher. One of the bunker’s door is open, and another reloading vehicle is seen exiting from it.

[Fox:] The Iskander ballistic missile has a range up to 310 miles, and can carry both unconventional as well as nuclear warheads, putting most of America’s NATO allies at risk. The second deployment is near the border with Mongolia, in Ulan-Ude in Sothern Russia, where there are four launchers and another reloading vehicle.

[Fox:] Earlier this week, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said authorities of the former Soviet republic are being “controlled” by the West, warning it stands to lose its independence and identity as a consequence. “The continuation of such policy by the Kiev authorities can contribute to the loss of Ukraine’s statehood,” Mr Patrushev told Rossiyskaya Gazeta, according to Russian news agency TASS.

This situation was placed by Fox in context with the Kerch Strait incident, in which three Ukrainian vessels and twenty-four crew and soldiers were fired upon by Russian coast guard ships as they manuevered in the Kerch Strait without permission from Russian authorities based in Crimea. There are many indications that this incident was a deliberate attempt on the part of Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, to create a sensational incident, possibly to bolster his flagging re-election campaign. After the incident, the President blustered and set ten provinces in Ukraine under martial law for 30 days, insisting to the world, and especially to the United States, that Russia was “preparing to invade” his country.

Russia expressed no such sentiment in any way, but they are holding the soldiers until the end of January. However, on January 17th, a Moscow court extended the detention of eight of these captured Ukrainian sailors despite protests from Kyiv and Washington.

In addition to the tensions in Ukraine, the other significant point of disagreement between the Russian Federation and the US is the US’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Russia sees this treaty as extremely important, but the US point of view expressed by John Bolton, National Security Adviser, is that the treaty is useless because it does not include any other parties that have intermediate range nukes or the capability for them, such as Iran, North Korea, and China. This is an unsolved problem, and it is possible that the moves of the Iskander batteries is a subtle warning from the Russians that they really would rather the US stay in the treaty.

Discussions on this matter at public levels between the Russian government and the US have been very difficult because of the fierce anti-Russia and anti-Trump campaigns in the media and political establishments of the United States. President Putin and President Trump have both expressed the desire to meet, but complications like the Kerch Strait Incident conveniently arise, and have repeatedly disrupted the attempts for these two leaders to meet.

Where Fox News appears to get it wrong shows in a few places:

First, the known range for Iskander missiles maxes at about 310 miles. The placement of the battery near Krasnodar is 270 miles from the eastern Ukrainian border, but the eastern part of Ukraine is Russian-friendly and two provinces, Donetsk and Lugansk, are breakaway provinces acting as independent republics. The battery appears to be no threat to Kyiv or to that part of Ukraine which is aligned with the West. Although the missiles could reach into US ally Georgia, Krasnodar is 376 miles from Tbilisi, and so again it seems that there is no significant target for these missiles. (This is assuming the location given is accurate.)

Second, the location shown in the photo is (44,47,29.440N at 39,13,04.754E). The date on the “Krasnodar” photo is January 17, 2019. However, a photo of the region taken July 24, 2018 reveals a different layout. It takes a moment or two to study this, but there is not much of an exact match here:

Third, Fox News reported of “further Russian troops deployment and S-400 Surface to air missile days after the escalation started, hinting Russia might have orchestrated the naval incident.”

It may be true that Russia deployed weapons to this base area in Crimea, but this is now Russian territory. S-400s can be used offensively, but their primary purpose is defensive. Troops on the Crimean Peninsula, especially at this location far to the north of the area, are not in a position strategically to invade Kherson Oblast (a pushback would probably corner such forces on the Crimean peninsula with nowhere to go except the Black Sea). However, this does look like a possible defense installation should Ukraine’s forces try to invade or bomb Crimea.

Fox has this wrong, but it is no great surprise, because the American stance about Ukraine and Russia is similar – Russia can do no right, and Ukraine can do no wrong. Fox News is not monolithic on this point of view, of course, with anchors and journalists such as Tucker Carlson, who seem willing to acknowledge the US propaganda about the region. However, there are a lot of hawks as well. While photos in the articles about the S-400s and the Russian troops are accurately located, it does appear that the one about Iskanders is not, and that the folks behind this original article are guessing that the photos will not be questioned. After all, no one in the US knows where anything is in Russia and Ukraine, anyway, right?

That there is an issue here is likely. But is it appears that there is strong evidence that it is opposite what Fox reported here, it leaves much to be questioned.

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Vladimir Putin calls new Ukrainian church ‘dangerous politicking’

President Putin said creation of the “Orthodox Church in Ukraine” is against Church canon and that the West drove Constantinople to do it.

Seraphim Hanisch

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In an interview with the Serbian newspapers Politika and Vecernje Novosti ahead of his visit to Serbia, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the creation of the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, a schismatic agglomeration headed by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists was “dangerous politicking.” He further noted that:

The establishment of the new religious entity in Ukraine is nothing but an attempt “to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.”

“Yet, hardly anyone in the U.S. or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this,” Putin said.

“Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking,” he said.

President Putin had more things to say in the interview, and we present what he said in full here (emphasis ours), as reported on the Kremlin.ru website:

Question: The Serbian Orthodox Church has taken the side of the Russian Orthodox Church in the context of the ecclesiastical crisis in Ukraine. At the same time, a number of countries are exerting pressure on Patriarch Bartholomew and seek to ensure recognition of Ukrainian ”schismatics“ by Local Orthodox Churches. How do you think the situation will evolve?

Vladimir Putin: I would like to remind your readers, who are greatly concerned about the information regarding the split in the Orthodox community but are probably not fully aware of the situation in Ukraine, what it is all about.

On December 15, 2018, the Ukrainian leaders, actively supported by the USA and the Constantinople Patriarchate, held a so-called “unifying synod”. This synod declared the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, with Patriarch Bartholomew signing the tomos (decree) granting it autocephaly on January 6, 2019. Thus, it was attempted to legalize the schismatic communities that exist in Ukraine under the jurisdiction of Istanbul, which is a major violation of Orthodox canons.

Yet, hardly anyone in the US or in the Ukrainian leadership worries about this, as the new church entity is an entirely political, secular project. Its main aim is to divide the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, sowing seeds of ethnic as well as religious discord. No wonder Kiev has already declared ”obtaining complete independence from Moscow.”

Once again, this has nothing to do with spiritual life; we are dealing here with dangerous and irresponsible politicking. Likewise, we do not speak about the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. It is de-facto fully controlled by Istanbul. Whereas Ukraine’s largest canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has never requested autocephaly from Patriarch Bartholomew, is absolutely independent in its actions. Its connection with the Russian Orthodox Church is purely canonical – but even this causes undisguised irritation of the current Kiev regime.

Because of this, clergymen and laymen of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being persecuted and deprived of churches and monasteries, and attempts are made to deny the Church its legitimate name, which raises tensions and only leads to further discord in Ukrainian society.

Evidently, Ukraine’s leaders have to understand that any attempts to force the faithful into a different church are fraught with grave consequences. Yet, they are eager to put interconfessional concord in the country at stake in order to conduct the election campaign of the current Ukrainian President based on a search for enemies, and to retain power by all means.

All of this does not go unnoticed by Orthodox Christians.

Naturally, Russia does not intend to interfere in ecclesiastical processes, especially those happening on the territory of a neighboring sovereign state. However, we are aware of the danger posed by such experiments and blatant interference of the state in religious affairs.

The situation continues to degrade in Ukraine, and though the Orthodox faithful of the Autonomous but Moscow-based Ukrainian Orthodox Church are the hardest hit, worry over Ukrainian lawlessless-made-law has the Jewish community in that country nervous as well. This is perhaps to be expected as the Azov Brigade, a neo-Nazi aligned group that is hypernationalist, is a good representation of the character of the “hate Russia at all costs” Ukrainian nationalists. A parallel piece in Interfax made note of this in a piece dated January 17th 2019:

[A] bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada introducing a procedure by which parishes can join the new Ukrainian church makes it easier to seize places of worship, and supporters of autocephaly have already started doing this across the country, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said.

“They need this law to seize our churches. You can’t just come with a crowbar to someone else’s barn, but now the law allows you to do so. They aren’t creating something of their own, but are trying to steal what’s ours,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church spokesperson Vasyl Anisimov told Interfax on Thursday.

The religious entity set up in December with Constantinople’s involvement and called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine “in fact doesn’t yet exist in nature. It’s fake. It doesn’t have any parishes of its own or government registration,” he said.

However, “the supporters of autocephaly don’t have plans to create anything of their own at all, so they have chosen the path of takeover, and the authorities are helping them in that,” Anisimov said.

“Hence, the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada today is in fact absolute lawlessness,” he said.

“If you pass legislation affecting an industry, you should talk to industrialists, and if it’s legislation on the agricultural sector, talk to farmers. And here legislation on a church is passed, and moreover, this legislation is aimed against this church, it is protesting, and Jews are protesting, too, because this legislation may affect them as well – but nobody is listening, and they change the law for the sake of an absolutely absurd and unconstitutional gimmick. But, of course, it’s the people who will ultimately suffer,” Anisimov said.

 

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According to Ukraine, the Crimean Bridge doesn’t exist (VIDEO)

Ukraine tries to deny the reality of the completion and soundness of the Crimean Bridge, though Ukraine was unable to build it, itself.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Russia’s VESTI News is truly an entertaining channel at times. This news service is strongly supported by the Russian government, and one of the criticisms it receives from Russian people is that it is an “extreme” propaganda house, telling all manner of crazy stories to distract its watchers’ attention away from the real problems that Russian people face at home.

No doubt there is truth to this, as this is a technique certainly duplicated in the US, Great Britain and elsewhere. Every nation has the right to its own propaganda. However, Vesti also seems to have a lot of fun making fun of other nations’ propaganda, and here they found a great one. Apparently, Ukraine’s propaganda ministry is trying to make the assertion that the Crimean Bridge collapsed and its debris is floating around in the Kerch Strait, “with the tectonic plates.”

See for yourself.

According to Ukrainian scientists and even “psychics”, this bridge is doomed to fall into the Kerch Strait once a sufficient earthquake hits it. Some claims appear even to say that the bridge already is not there, or at least, is not there in the way the Russian news sources have described it.

Of course, the VESTI team erupts into its famous snark, talking about how the bridge is very much alive and well and that it is the new “pride of Russia,” and so on.

This bridge is indeed quite an engineering feat, being completed only about three years after the rejoining / annexation / invasion / hostile takeover / or was it a voluntary referendum? of Crimea to the Russian Federation. This is a rapid speed for such a major project, but it is not very unusual for such projects to progress rather quickly when they are done with a will.

Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai) is presently by far the tallest building in the world, reaching skyward 828 meters, over half a mile into the sky. It took a little over four years to construct this landmark building, and it was done steadily and with a will to completion. Its would-be successor is not having as smooth an experience, for the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has hit problems, and even though this tower is projected to go only about 130 meter higher (reaching a significant milestone of one kilometer tall), its construction started in 2013, and as of the latest update, only 63 floors are completed.

The Crimean Bridge was built with a will to make a point, presumably to Ukraine, the rest of Russia and the world:

This is the New Russia. Look what we can do!

And, they did a marvelous feat of engineering in a very short time.

VESTI indeed does try to make some people feel better by pointing out the problems of other countries. Sometimes that is a distraction. But sometimes it is worth a serious bit of consideration.

Ukraine has a leader most of its people apparently cannot stand, who is a warmonger and a crybaby at the same time, begging the West for help while breathing threats against Russia.

While there are no doubt many, many wonderful people there trying to do wonderful things, it does seem to be that the country is suffering because of its willingness to be a pawn of the West. Russia is feeling the Western squeeze and it is not pleasant, but the Russians also seem to know that they can get themselves through this, and so they have reason to be glad when the country makes a good accomplishment such as the Crimean Bridge. The political and geopolitical importance of this project is such that it is very likely that all sorts of great engineering went into the bridge. It is prudent, and Russians seem to understand prudence very, very well.

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