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MOSCOW, December 17. /TASS/. Syria and Russia’s relations with Turkey and Ukraine were the central foreign policy themes of President Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference on Thursday afternoon.
Moscow, he said, supports the United States’ initiative for drafting a special UN Security Council resolution on Syria.
"By and large we support the United States’ initiative for drafting such a resolution by the UN Security Council. It is a draft of such a resolution that US Secretary of State John Kerry brought to Moscow," the Russian leader said. "I believe that when the Syrian authorities see it, they will agree."
"We believe that this is an acceptable proposal by and large. Although there is a great deal to be worked on," Putin believes. "We will work for the solution of that crisis in various ways. We will seek to ensure that the yet-to-be identified solutions should suit all parties, however complex the situation may look," he said.
Speaking about the future of Syria’s President Bashar Assad Putin said that Russia would never agree to watch idly anyone dictate to others how to go about the business of running the nation. "US Secretary of State Kerry and I had a discussion on that score. We believe that the Syrian people alone are in the position to decide who will govern them," Putin said.
Asked if it might be possible to convert the conflict in Syria into a political dimension Putin said that there existed no means of settling the conflict other than political ones. The key aspects of Russia’s plan are identical to that of the United States’ one, he said. "There should be joint work on the Constitution, creation of instruments to control future early elections, the elections as such and the recognition of their results," Putin said. "On the basis of these democratic procedures Syria should be free to decide what form of rule is the most acceptable one and who is to govern the country."
Putin confirmed that Russia had managed to establish contacts with members of the Syrian opposition, including the so-called "irreconcilable" one.
"It was Francois Hollande’s idea to try to unite efforts by the Syrian army and at least some part of the armed opposition in the struggle against the Islamic State. This idea has worked, at least to a some extent. We have established contacts with certain people who, while remaining an irreconcilable armed opposition in Syria, wish to fight against the Islamic State. "We support their efforts in the struggle against the Islamic State with strikes by Russian aircraft, precisely the way we support the Syrian army."
Putin declared it was impossible to establish relations with the Turkish leadership. "Experience has shown it is very hard, practically impossible to come to terms with the current Turkish leadership. Even then and there when and where we say we agree they stab us in the back for absolutely obscure reasons," Putin said. "At the interstate level I see no prospects for settling relations with the Turkish side. There certainly are settlement prospects at the humanitarian level, although problems do exist, of course."
Russia did its utmost to preserve economic relations with Ukraine, but it is Kiev’s own decision to quit all agreements and join the EU rules," Putin said. "Regrettably we forecast a worsening of our economic relations as of January 1, because we have to make a decision we will not be working with Ukraine as a member of the CIS free trade zone starting from January 1. Russia has no intention to take any sanctions against Ukraine. Kiev will merely be stripped of its benefits and preferences. There will follow a transition to the ordinary most favored nation status in trade."
Putin answered a question about progress in the implementation of the Minsk Accords. "We are not interested in a flare-up of the conflict in the east of Ukraine. Physical liquidation of people in that region must be ruled out," Putin said, adding that Ukraine itself resisted the implementation of the Minsk Accords.
Putin declared no regular Russian troops were present in the east of Ukraine, but at the same time acknowledged that there were "certain people addressing certain military issues."
"We have never said that there are no people who are involved in settling certain questions in the military sphere, but that does not mean that Russian regular troops are present there," he said. "You can feel the difference." He added that Moscow was prepared to exert influence on militias in Donbass for the sake of strict implementation of the Minsk Accords for settling the situation in the southeast of Ukraine.
In reply to a question from a Georgian correspondent about the state of relations between his country and Russia Putin said that Russia was not to blame for the aggravation of tensions between the two countries. The historical blame for the breakup of Georgia should be placed squarely on the former adventurist leadership of that country. "The Saakashvili government should have never made the decisions it had taken." But Russia does see positive messages from the current Georgian leadership and it is prepared to cancel visas. "As far as the visa regimen is concerned, we may be prepared to cancel it."
He promised that Russia was prepared to develop relations with the United States. "It remains to be seen who is going to be the next US president. In any case, whoever may take office, we will be prepared and eager to develop our relations with the United States. We are open and we will be working with any president the American people will vote for."