Putin (expectedly) deflects blame, chides U.S. Democratic leadership.

December 2016

By Nabi Abdullaev, Moscow.

"It is not us to be blamed" was Russia’s Vladimir Putin leitmotif through the four-hour Q&A marathon he held in Moscow for more than 1,400 Russian and foreign journalists on December 24. The Russian president explained his country’s geopolitical vigour in the past years by the need to react to external threats, sometimes stemming from malign or reckless U.S. moves.

Putin  said little new at his annual so-called “large” press conference, he rather reiterated his policy points made recently, both on Russia’s foreign and domestic politics, and repeatedly rebuked the U.S. Democratic Party and administration for blaming Russia over their latest problems at home.

“We know that the U.S. Democratic Party lost not only the presidential elections but also the Senate and Congress votes… Is it we who are guilty of it?” Putin said. “It speaks that the current administration has systemic problems.”

Putin choose to use non-confrontational rhetoric at the conference, one of his two major PR vehicles dating back to 2001. The other is his annual live Q&A television show where regular citizens, not journalists, have a chance to ask the president a question.

The Russian president said that he shares hopes with the U.S. president-elect Donald Trump of improving U.S.-Russian relations and favours a united Europe pursuing independent policies and not acting in the interests of “third countries”. Putin did not name them but he apparently meant the United States, having repeatedly spoken earlier about the dependency of Brussels’ politics upon American influence.

Answering a question about the new arms race unfolding between Russia and the United States, Putin blamed the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, shortly after Putin offered Russia’s help to then-president George W. Bush following the 9/11 attacks. The withdrawal and the following U.S. efforts to build anti-missile facilities near Russian borders in Eastern Europe were among the most contentious topics for Putin in his dealings with the United States. Putin said that Russia has opted to develop its offensive nuclear potential but does it within the limits of international agreements.

Putin referred to another contentious issue, namely U.S. support of pro-democracy regime changes abroad, as he spoke about the origins of the conflict in Ukraine. Putin’s idiosyncrasy with foreign involvement into domestic politics of sovereign countries has developed after the U.S.-supported public protests in Georgia and Ukraine led to regime changes there. It was further boosted after the so-called Arab Spring and, particularly, the regime change in Libya in 2011.

Trump said during his campaign that the United States needs to recognize that for Moscow, Ukraine is a much more important national interest than for Washington.

On the national economy, Putin sounded optimistic, saying that it has adjusted to the current oil prices and that some sectors, particularly agriculture and machine-building, are running strong.

He rebuffed a Russian journalist calling to expel foreign consultancies and rating agencies from the country for “undermining Russia’s economic sovereignty, by saying that is a part of global economy and that refusing from international business ratings will negatively impact foreign investment in Russia”.

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