December 14, 2017 / 9:53 AM / a year ago

Russian President Putin's end-of-year news conference

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The following are highlights from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-year news conference on Thursday.

ON THE ISSUES RUSSIA FACES

“The most important thing is what the authorities and society need to focus on. There are issues like the development of infrastructure, healthcare, education, high technology, increasing labour productivity and citizens’ income.”

“I’m thinking about the fact that the political environment, as well as the economic environment, need to be competitive. I will strive for us to have a balanced political system.”

ON THE OPPOSITION

“It’s important not to just make noise on public squares and speak about the regime, but it’s important to propose something to make things better. Of course there are a lot of dissatisfied people today. But when you start to compare what the leaders of the opposition are proposing, especially the leaders of the non-systemic (liberal) opposition, there are a lot of problems. A real agenda needs to be proposed, one that people would believe.”

ON THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY

“The economy is growing, it’s an obvious fact. There is no doctoring (of figures). GDP has grown 1.6 percent, industrial production has also grown 1.6 percent. The auto industry, light industry, and agriculture have experienced good growth.”

“We have overcome two (economic) shocks — the sharp fall of energy prices and external restrictions, or so-called sanctions. Sanctions did not have as much of an impact as the oil price, but they still did have an impact.”

“Our development has started to rely more and more on domestic demand, which is crucial for any economy.”

ON THE CENTRAL BANK

“Our central bank follows the law and international practices. It is an independent structure ... not under government control. It acts exclusively independently.”

ON THE NEW START ARMS CONTROL TREATY WITH THE UNITED STATES

“We have not withdrawn from the foundation agreements that have been the cornerstones of international security. We have not withdrawn from missile defence treaties. The United States withdrew unilaterally.”

“Now we are hearing about problems regarding the agreement on short and medium-range missiles (the INF treaty). It appears that the conditions are being created and there is an information propaganda campaign for the United States’ possible withdrawal from this treaty. They have de-facto already left it.”

ON MILITARY SPENDING

“For the next year we plan to spend 1.4 trillion roubles ($23.88 billion) on procurement and 1.4 trillion on maintenance.”

ON DOPING SCANDAL

“Some colleagues and I have already said that it is clear to us that the scandal is being inflated ahead of the Russian domestic political calendar. I know that this is the case, no matter what is said.”

“At the same time we are also guilty, we provided an excuse for this because there were real doping cases. It’s true that this happens in other countries but there isn’t this political frenzy. There is no doubt that there is a political undercurrent.”

ON FORMER HEAD OF RUSSIAN ANTI-DOPING LABORATORY, DOPING WHISTLEBLOWER GRIGORY RODCHENKOV

“This (the doping scandal) is the mistake of the people, the bodies that put him in that position. You can’t work with people who try to kill themselves... And you can’t base a decision on the testimonies of these people.”

“He is under the FBI’s control and protection. This is not an advantage for us, it’s not a disadvantage. It means that he works under the control of the American special services.”

ON INTERNATIONAL SPORTS BODIES

“We respect sports organizations. We understand that it’s difficult. They themselves are under pressure and being intimidated. But their conclusions still need to be based on something objective.”

ON SOCCER WORLD CUP

“We have had lots of successful experiences in hosting very big events. Out of 12 stadiums, we have a two-month delay at one place. But this can all be corrected. I am sure that everything will be done on time and with quality.”

ON TRUMP

“It’s not for me to evaluate the president’s work. This needs to be done by the voter, the American people. We are objectively seeing that there have been some major accomplishments, even in the short time he has been working. Look at how the markets have grown. This speaks to investors’ trust in the American economy. It speaks to what President Trump is doing in this sphere. With all due respect to Trump’s opponents, this is an objective fact.”

ON MENDING RUSSIA-U.S. RELATIONS

“You have to ask him if he (Trump) has such a desire, none at all or whether it has disappeared. I hope that he has such a desire. After all, in the interest of the American people, we are normalizing our relations and will develop (them) and overcome common threats. We know them well: terrorism, ... finding solutions to environmental problems, fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, overcoming crises in different regions of the world, including the Middle East, the North Korean issue and so on.”

ON ALLEGED RUSSIAN MEDDLING IN 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

“This is all invented by the people who oppose Trump to give his work an illegitimate character. The people who do this are dealing a blow to the state of domestic politics in the country.”

ON INFLATION

“Targeted inflation... is the central bank’s balanced budgetary and monetary policy. Can we understand the business community’s criticism? We can understand.”

“What has happened in the last years? If the central bank last year twice cut the key rate, then this year the central bank cut the key rate five times and now it stands at 8.25 percent.”

ON BANKS

“A decision was made to restructure banking institutions. Those that have a general work license with large partners, with large businesses, they must have capital of no less than 1 billion roubles.”

“I think that we have a large enough number of bank for the level of our economy’s development…. We need to reform the financial system in the interests, first of all, of the clients, especially with fluctuating world markets and domestic conditions so that clients are not faced with unsolvable problems.”

ON TAXES

“We have agreed that there would be no tax increase until the end of 2018. Overall this is sustained for the main types of taxes.”

ON NORTH KOREA

“We do not recognise North Korea’s nuclear status. We consider that everything that is going on there is counterproductive. In 2005 there was an agreement with North Korea that it would reduce its nuclear military programme. A few months later this wasn’t enough for the United States. Accounts started to be frozen... North Korea had to do things that went beyond the agreements. Why did you (the United States) do this? Was it not enough? You provoked North Korea to withdraw. And then even worse – Libya, Iraq. North Korea does not see any other means of self-defence except the development of weapons of mass destruction and military equipment.”

“We consider that both sides have to stop escalating the situation. We have to end this spiral. Now (U.S. Secretary of State Rex) Tillerson is saying that the United States is ready for direct contacts. This is a very good signal.”

ON EASTERN UKRAINE

“The effectiveness of the Minsk agreements is low, most of all because of the position of the authorities in Kiev. There is no desire to fulfil the Minsk agreements, there is no desire to begin a genuine political process.”

“You always have to look at the origin of this tragedy. Its origin was a coup. A portion of the Ukrainian people did not agree with this, started fighting it. And they started fighting those who did not agree with it using undemocratic means, with the help of the special services. There is no Russian military on the Donbass territory, but there were some specific military formations that were independent and ready to beat back large military actions against Donbass. We consider that this corresponds to the interests of the people living on this territory.”

“(Ukrainian President Petro) Poroshenko proposed to arm OSCE observers. I agreed right away. The OSCE rejected this. Then (Poroshenko) said that UN forces need to ensure the security of OSCE workers. And I agree with this. After that Ms Merkel told me on the phone, ‘why only at the border?’ I thought, ‘you’re right’, and I agreed. But now it turns out that this was not enough and it all comes down to putting this territory under international control.”

ON RUSSIA-CHINA RELATIONS

“China’s economy is developing at a very high pace. And the Chinese Communist party rules speak to the fact that China is striving to be stable and to ensure stability. China is our political partner.”

“About the idea of the Silk Road... it is absolutely compatible with the development of the Eurasian Economic Community and the broad partnership we have proposed in Asia. China has expressed great interest in the Northeastern Passage. If we ensure year-round interest in the Northeast Passage, then the movement of goods from Asia to Europe will be much more expedient than if they were transported through other routes.”

ON RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE

“I consider that the government is acting quite confidently and the results of its work are satisfactory. The return to steady economic growth and steady macro-economic development speak to this.”

ON 2010 POLISH GOVERNMENT PLANE CRASH IN RUSSIA

“If there was an explosion on board, where did the plane fly from? From Moscow or from Warsaw? So we made our way there? Then look for these Russian agents there.

“What happened in the plane has been carefully studied in the most detailed way... The same goes for the plane’s wreckage. If there is a problem and a tragedy, we have to approach it like a tragedy and not construct some political insinuations. Do you want to further complicated Russia-Polish relations?”

“Turn this page. Finally grow up and mature. The further deterioration of Russian-Polish relations will not be beneficial to Poland.”

ON SYRIA

“All good-willed people around the world need to understand that if we will not solve this problem together, it will become their problem. One of the sources of terrorism is low levels of education and material comfort… Syria cannot manage this on its own, and Russia alone cannot manage this. We are ready to take part in this but only through common efforts.”

“What is the greatest obstacle to a definitive solution to the Syrian crisis… It is very important for all participants in this process and global players to have no desire or temptation to use terrorist, quasi-terrorist, radical groups to achieve their political objectives.”

“We are seeing with our own eyes, our pilots, our drones that the fighters are heading to Iraq. We tell our American partners, ‘You see, they are going there and there.’ There is no reaction. No. They just leave and that’s it. Why? Because they think that they could be used in the fight against (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad.”

ON ROSNEFT HEAD IGOR SECHIN IN CASE AGAINST FORMER ECONOMY MINISTER ALEXEI ULYUKAYEV

“There are enough problems, but I don’t agree with the fact that we have different legal realities. As far as I know – and I was interested because I saw society’s reaction – the law here has not been violated. And as the investigators think, enough material has been collected, including the testimonies of Sechin himself. I don’t agree with you that Sechin could have gone to court. He could have repeated what he had said during the preliminary investigation and interrogation.”

Reporting by Moscow Newsroom

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