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MOSCOW, December 19 (Itar-Tass) —— Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday began his major news conference with the most topical event of the day – the State Duma’s decision, made on Wednesday, to adopt in the second reading a bill in retaliation against the United States’ Magnitsky Act. Alongside other counter-measures the bill contains a ban on the adoptions of Russian children by US citizens. The president described that decision, which drew protests from many Russian citizens and criticism from some government members as “emotional but adequate.” On the eve of the news conference many analysts were speculating that the president would take a more moderate stance on this controversial issue than the legislators.
“I do understand that this is a very emotional response from the State Duma, but I believe that it is adequate,” Putin said. Once again he pointed to human rights problems in the United States, which existed at a time when the US authorities accused the Russian authorities of violating the rights of Russians. He said that even when crimes against children were committed in the United States, the American justice system did not let Russian representatives monitor the investigation.
Asked if he would sign the anti-Magnitsky Act bill into law, Putin said that he had not the text yet, but supported the legislators’ position by and large. “Before I decide whether to sign it into law or not I must take a look at the text,” he said.
Putin said he agreed with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev the adoptions of children by Russian families should be expanded. “I believe that Medvedev’s proposal is absolutely correct – giving more support for the Russian families that adopt Russian children.”
The president offered his comments on the Magnitsky Act – its adoption “spoils Russian-US relations and pulls them back into the past.”
“This act is certainly unfriendly towards the Russian Federation,” he said. In his opinion, in focus there are not Russian officials, of course. “One anti-Soviet act has been replaced by another, anti-Russian one.”
“They just cannot do away without that. They are trying to stay in the past. This is very bad. It spoils our relations,” he said.
Putin said he regarded himself as a bad Christian, because he believed that turning the other cheek was utterly wrong. He said he preferred to fight back in such situations, including those in international relations. “If we have been given a slap, we should retaliate. Otherwise will continue to be slapped on and on,” Putin said.
He rated the performance of the government led by his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, as satisfactory. “I am happy with the prime minister’s and the government’s job by and large,” he said.
At the same time he voiced some latent criticism of the Cabinet. “It should work smoothly as a team, as a united team, otherwise there will be no result. The people must be aware of that,” he remarked.
“It is necessary to ensure the people in the government should stay aware we are colleagues. There should be no difference between what the country was told about the top priority and medium term tasks in the economy and in the social sphere in the course of the presidential election campaign and between what the government has been doing,” Putin said.
Asked about dismissals of government ministers he said that “not many of them have been dismissed,” adding that “three ministers have been reprimanded. At the same time he kept quiet about the most scandalous dismissal from the government – that of the defense minister, Anatoly Serdyukov.
However, Putin was asked a separate question about the affair. He promised that all major corruption rows would be investigated properly and that the investigation and trial would be impartial to the maximum extent.
“Nobody will be under a veil of protection,” he promised.
At the same time Putin called for waiting for the court’s ruling in that case before rating Serdyukov’s activity.
“True, there were doubts about the correctness of his behavior and the decisions he made. But whether something has been stolen or not stolen is to be decided by a court of law.”
“Serdyukov was reforming the Armed Forces in the right direction. The question is about the outward manifestations, about his attitude to people. That’s a different matter,” Putin said.
Putin disagreed that over the years of his rule he had built an authoritarian regime in Russia. “I believe that we have ensured stability as a mandatory condition for the country’s development,” he said. “I would not call that an authoritarian regime. I disagree with that.”
As the brightest confirmation of his statement Putin recalled his decision to retreat into the background after two presidential terms in 2008. “Had I really considered a totalitarian regime as the most preferable one, I would have changed the Constitution,” Putin said. “Then it could be done quite easily.”
Putin believes that during his presence at the high posts in the country no systemic mistakes were made. “Possibly, there were some mistakes, but saying that they were systemic mistakes, mistakes that I would like to correct by all means would be wrong. I can tell you quite sincerely I would say so outright now, if it were otherwise,” he explained.
The president was asked about the arrests of oppositional politicians, accused of staging mass protests during demonstrations in Moscow’s Bolotnaya square on May 6. “I do not think that for participation in a protest demonstration, even if the demonstration were held in violation of the law, people should be sent to jail,” Putin said, adding that the use of violence against law enforcement personnel was impermissible.
Putin emphatically dismissed speculations about his influence on the court that tried Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Also, he denied there were some personal or political motives involved. “I had no means of influence, and I did not influence the activity of law enforcement or judicial bodies in any way. I stayed away from that affair,” Putin said.
“You have a wrong idea of the way out judicial system works,” he told a journalist, who speculated that the court had reduced Khodorkovsky’s prison term because the president’s attitude to the case had changed. “Certain legal amendments were made. Apparently, those amendments were a reason enough for the court to make those decisions,” Putin said.
As far as the Khodorkovsky affair is concerned, “there is no personal persecution involved,” Putin said. He voiced the certainty that “in keeping with the law, if everything is normal, Mikhail Borisovich will be set free, and I wish him good health.”
Putin’s press-conference was devoted mostly to domestic affairs, but a number of international problems were touched upon.
Asked about relations with Georgia, Putin said that Russia did see what he described as “positive signals from the new Georgian authorities,” and really wished an improvement of those relations, but had no idea of how to go about that business in view of the two countries’ different attitude to the problem of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia is unable to revise its decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said. “President Mikhail Saakashvili has led the situation into a stalemate, and I have no idea of how to get out of it,” Putin said. “Russia is unable to change its decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That’s an axiom. And Georgia is reluctant to recognize their independent status.”
The question was raised about Russia’s attitude to Syria.
“We are not concerned over the future of the Assad regime in Syria, change there is a vital need,” Putin said. Russia is concerned over what happens next in Syria. “We do not want to see the Opposition, should it rise to power, crack down on the existing authorities, which would take the Opposition’s place,” he explained, adding that Russia was for a solution that would bring the lasting civil war in Syria to an end. “First, they are to come to terms as to how they should co-exist, and only then change the existing state of affairs, and not the other way round – to disband and ruin everything first, and then decide,” Putin said.
Asked about the resetting of relations with the United States Putin replied he was very curious what was to be reset, because the term had been invented in Washington. “In principle we had a normal, good relationship. They got worse somewhat when it turned out that we had a divergence of views on Iraq. That’s where the problems started,” Putin said.
He mentioned the deployment of the US missile defense system as another problem in bilateral relations. “The creation of such systems would annul our nuclear missile potential,” Putin said. He confirmed that the Russian authorities would have to respond to the European missile defense somehow, if no agreement with the NATO partners were achieved.
However, despite the outstanding problems Russia does not see the United States as a foe. “We are not enemies. We’ve got to be patient and look for compromises,” Putin said.