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By Itar-Tass World Service writer Tamara Zamyatina
MOSCOW, December 19 (Itar-Tass World Service) - An annual, already 9th major news conference by Russian President Vladimir Putin began with the questions about Ukraine in the Russian capital on Thursday.
The president also noted that he did not see any serious prospects for a third YUKOS affair. After the news conference Putin said that he intended to amnesty convicted former CEO of Russia’s YUKOS oil company Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The president answered questions related to other international and domestic problems. In particular, he was asked about the prospects for deploying the tactical ballistic missile systems Iskander in Russia's westernmost Kaliningrad region and about relations between Russia and Georgia. Putin also dwelt on his attitude to the work of the government, Russian leading politicians, and the opposition.
The presidential news conference began with quite harsh questions about Ukraine. Vladimir Putin stated that the massive aid that Moscow was giving Ukraine was primarily caused by the fact that the fraternal country happened to be in a hard financial and political situation. Russia has reduced the gas price for Kiev not in the interests of the Ukrainian leadership, but to the benefit of the Ukrainian people, he added.
It was reported on December 17 that Russia had reduced the gas price for Kiev to 268.5 U.S. dollars from the current 400 U.S. dollars for 1,000 cubic metres. Russia will also invest 15 billion U.S. dollars in Ukrainian government securities from the Russian National Welfare Fund in the near future.
“I’ll say seriously without any irony: we often use the phrase ‘brotherly country’ and ‘brotherly people’. Today we see - Ukraine is in a difficult political and social situation,” Putin said. “We should behave as close relatives and support the Ukrainian people in this difficult situation,” Putin said.
Moscow also had some pragmatic considerations in taking some recent steps, Putin acknowledged, adding “Why should we finish off someone who is our main partner?”
The president noted that the assistance to Ukraine had not been linked with the events in Kiev’s Independence Square and the talks between Ukraine and the European Union. Russia does not oppose Ukraine’s association with Europe, but Russia will protect its domestic market, Putin stated.
“We do not object to association (between Ukraine and the EU - Itar-Tass eds) in general, we just say that we will have to protect our economy,” he noted.
Putin stated that the gas contract concluded with Ukraine in 2009 under Yulia Timoshenko’s government was economically fell founded and fair and the gas price formula was identical to that for all gas consumers in Europe.
As for the effect Moscow’s assistance to Kiev will have on the Russian economy, Putin noted that the point at issue was not to spend the money, but to invest it in the Ukrainian government securities. “As much as 15 billion U.S. dollars should be repaid with the five-percent bond coupon rate. I do not see any squandering by our country,” he said.
In reply to the question about the deployment of the tactical ballistic missile systems Iskander in Kaliningrad Region, Putin said that the decision on the issue had not been taken yet, but this can be a response to the deployment of the U.S. missile defence system in Europe. “We have not taken the decision to this effect yet. May everybody calm down,” he said.
“Iskander is the only means of our defence and a response to those threats which we see around us. Iskander is only an element of a possible response, which is far from being the most effective. Although in its segment it is the world's most effective weapons,” Putin stated.
Several Western media reported earlier that Russia had deployed the tactical ballistic missile systems Iskander in Kaliningrad Region. On Monday, December 16, the Russian Defence Ministry told reporters that “the tactical ballistic missile systems Iskander are actually in operation of the Russian Missile Troops and the artillery in the Western Military District.”
Russia is prepared to return to a visa-free regime with Georgia, Vladimir Putin stated. “I believe that we might be able to return to a visa-free regime with a high degree of probability. This should be studied thoroughly at the level of experts. This would be a good step to improve the relations between the two countries,” he said, adding that the possible cancelation of visas between the countries would help people to communicate and make it easier for Georgian enterprises to operate on the Russian market. In his view, this factor would provide conditions for the “fundamental and final improvement of our relations.”
“I have changed my personal attitude to the incumbent Georgian leadership,” Putin said. “We see the signals, which the new Georgian leadership is sending us,” he noted.
The Russian president noted that he had always had a good attitude to the Georgian people, even during the military conflict in South Ossetia. “There are some problems that emerged not through our fault. It was not us who unleashed those hostilities,” he stated.
Georgia has introduced the visa regime for Russian citizens in February 2012. On Wednesday, December 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia was not prepared yet to get back to a visa-free regime with Georgia.
Putin stated that he had not been acquainted or ever met with the former contractor of the U.S. security services, Edward Snowden, though this man was “of interest” to him, because he had succeeded “to change something” in the minds of people.
“I believe that something has changed in the minds of millions of people thanks to Mr. Snowden, particularly, major modern politicians,” the Russian president stated.
As for cooperation between Snowden and the Russian security services, they are not in contact or have ever contacted Snowden, Putin stated. “We don’t attack him with all sorts of questions about the things the service he worked for did as regards Russia,” Putin said.
“I have already said and will say in the nearly professional language that we are not working with him and had not been working with him in terms of questioning and investigation,” Putin told news conference.
“All that is being exposed some places is the stuff he had leaked elsewhere around the world. We do not know what else he had left there,” the Russian president said. Meanwhile, Putin recalled that the Russian authorities had granted temporary asylum to Snowden in Russia under the condition that he would not engage in anti-American propaganda.