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Direct Line with the president: Putin answers questions on Russia's foreign policy

June 15, 2017, 21:01 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Vladimir Putin has commented on the prospects for Moscow-Washington cooperation, the anti-Russian sanctions and the situations in Ukraine and Syria

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© AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

MOSCOW, June 15. /TASS/. During the 2017 televised question and answer session dubbed The Direct Line, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked few questions concerning international relations. In particular, Russians and people from other countries were interested in the prospects for Russian-US cooperation, as well as in Putin’s attitude to the situations in Ukraine and Syria. The Russian leader pointed out that he was not surprised at new US sanctions.

Russia interested in normalizing relations with US

Russia may cooperate with the United States in the field of non-proliferation and arms control, Putin said.

"You know in what areas we could cooperate with the US. First, we should focus on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the president said. "We are major nuclear powers, our cooperation in this sphere goes without saying as it is a crucial area. This refers not only to the North Korean issue but also other regions," he said.

"Second, the struggle against poverty and the negative impact on the environment," Putin said. "We know the stance of the current (US) administration on the Paris agreements, but President (Donald Trump) is not refusing to discuss this issue," Putin noted.

"We should work together on the fight against poverty in the world. The percentage of people with minimum wages has risen here but in the world there is a disaster in many regions," he said. "Poverty is one of the sources of radicalism and terrorism. We need to decide together what to do with this."

When answering a question received via a video linkup from a US citizen, Putin stressed that Russians respected the American people and would like relations with the United States to return back to normal.

He added that the growing Russophobia in the United States is "primarily the result of the internal political strife gaining momentum there." "We do not consider America our enemy," Putin said. "Moreover, on two occasions, when things were especially tough for us, we pooled our efforts and were allies during two world wars," he said.

The Russian president also expressed hope that the US would play a meaningful role in resolving the Ukrainian crisis.

Asylum for former FBI director

When speaking about methods that Russia and the United States used on the international stage, Putin noted that Moscow always expressed its views openly while Washington constantly tried to exert influence on the minds of people in other countries.

"Take a globe, spin it and point with your at any spot - there are American interests there," the Russian president said, responding to a question about Russia’s alleged interference in the US presidential elections.

"And there is surely their interference there. I know this from talks with actually all the heads of state. They do not want to quarrel with the Americans and no one openly speaks about it," the Russian president said. No proofs of the alleged trace of Russia’s meddling in the US elections have been provided, Putin pointed out.

He said that indirect influence on the minds of people was a natural thing. "The American propaganda, the constant feeding of the US-oriented NGOs and, what’s more, allocating funds - isn’t this the influence on our minds, isn’t this an attempt to influence how we must act in an election campaign?" Putin said.

In his opinion, the US is going through an acute phase of the domestic political struggle. "We can’t do anything about it," Putin said. In this connection he said that former FBI Director James Comey, who secretly recorded his conversation with US President Donald Trump, was no different from Edward Snowden, so Moscow was ready to provide political asylum to him.

According to Putin, Comey is more like a rights activist than a secret service chief. "If he continues to be persecuted in this connection, we will be ready to provide political asylum to him, he should know about that," the Russian president said.

For no particular reason

During the Q&A session, Putin also touched upon the US sanctions on Russia. He said he was not surprised at the US Senate’s attempts to tighten sanctions against Russia for no particular reason.

"There is nothing surprising about that. We do know that a bill on tighter sanctions has emerged in the US Senate again," "Incidentally, why? Nothing extraordinary is happening. Why has the theme of sanctions been brought up again for no reason?"

"This proves the ongoing internal political struggle in the United States," Putin said. "Nevertheless, this is happening for no reason at all, I believe. Had there been no Crimean issue or other problems, they would have thought up something else for containing Russia," he noted.

Ukraine still there

Some questions that Putin was asked concerned Ukraine. A Ukrainian caller asked "why Russian TV channels paint both Stepan Bandera’s followers and those who honor the shared memory of our grandfathers and take part in the Immortal Regiment events with the same brush?" The president said that he highly valued the position of Ukrainians who still remembered the common history that united Russia and Ukraine.

"Thank you very much for your position, for cherishing our common history," Putin told the Ukrainian caller. However, he did not agree that all Ukrainians "are painted with the same brush" in Russia. "We are trying not to show anyone in a bad light," the Russian president added.

The Russian leader stressed that Moscow had been refraining from openly supporting any Ukrainian politician in order not to cause harm. However, he praised Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko for having good knowledge of classic Russian literature as he had quoted Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov’s poem "Farewell unwashed Russia" after the European Union announced its final decision to approve visa-free travel for Ukrainians.

Paving way for political process in Syria

In response to a question about Russia’s interests in Syria, Putin said that enhancing the Syrian army’s fighting capacity was one of the short-term priorities.

"We plan to build a peaceful political process involving all parties to the conflict. Our short-term goal is to enhance the Syrian army’s fighting capacity and retreat to our Hmeimim and Tartus bases, leaving the Syrian troops to effectively achieve their aims," Putin said.

"If the need arises to, say, use warplanes, we could support them in their fight against terrorist organizations. That is what our plans are," the Russian leader added.

Putin also said that Russia had gained priceless experience while using its newest weapons during the Syrian operation, as advanced weapons had been put to a test.

"It has done enormous good for our defense industry. The use of cutting-edge weapons has allowed us to understand how they work in combat conditions and to make necessary corrections. But we knew from the start that they were good weapons," Putin noted.

70 questions in four hours

Putin gave answers to nearly 70 questions in 3 hours 56 minutes during his annual question and answer session on Thursday.

More than half of the questions, 35, highlighted social and economic worries of the Russian people. There were seven questions on international issues (Ukraine, the United States and Syria), two - about the environmental protection, and four - about the domestic policy.

Also, the head of state spoke four times about his private life. Putin told about his grandchildren and a time machine capable of steering anyone back through dozens or hundreds of years. The president advised the Russians to learn more about their history since it helps to build the future.

Besides, Putin said that there were attempts to deceive him, as any other person, but he would not make a fuss around it. "I will not forget it," he promised.

The president also promised to look into some of the issues raised at the Q&A session and said he would set out on a trip to the Western Ural city of Izhevsk to visit a woman in her dilapidated house.

During the Q&A session Putin was asking questions, rather than just responding to them. For instance, he asked the football coach Valery Gazzaev about Russia’s chances at the 2018 World Cup.

At the end of Q&A session, the president himself traditionally chose a few questions to give answers to them.

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