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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 swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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