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Vladimir Putin to the Press: ‘Love Quickly Turns to Hate’
Also, if you have poor relations with Russia right now, it's not Russia's fault.
‘Tis the season for Vladimir Putin’s year-end press conference, held Friday in Moscow.
This year’s rendition of the annually and famously long newser ran relatively brief; Putin didn’t speak for four hours this time (slacker). But the press conference was not short on defensive quips from the Russian president, who maintains that Moscow is to blame neither for the 2014 war in Ukraine, nor for poor relations between Russia and the United States.
Putin argued that it was not Russia’s fault that Russia seized Crimea in 2014. The war, he said, was started by other people. He also noted relations between Russia and Ukraine would probably be improved by a bridge that is under construction to connect Russia and Crimea. Ukraine, which maintains the Crimea peninsula is not Russian but Ukrainian, is likely to disagree.
And, Putin said, since Russia is not to blame for the deterioration of relations with Ukraine, Russia certainly can’t be blamed for the breakdown of diplomatic ties with the European Union, which sanctioned Russia over Crimea in 2014 and, earlier this month, extended sanctions through July 2017.
“We did not initiate the worsening of our ties with the EU. It was the EU that imposed sanctions against us, and we had to react with our own restriction,” Putin said. He added: “I have always said that only joint [West-Russia] efforts can tackle terrorism,” he added. “But how such efforts can be united if we have sanctions?”
Over at the Guardian, journalist Luke Harding concluded, “It’s clear to me that getting rid of EU and U.S. sanctions against Russia remains Moscow’s top foreign policy priority. The good news for Putin is that President-elect Trump has pretty much indicated that his administration will dump them.”
And it is the Trump administration, Putin insisted, that must improve relations between Moscow and Washington, which are now so bad that, per the Russian president, they “can’t get any worse.” U.S. President Barack Obama, he said, divides America. Indeed, Putin sent a Christmas letter to Trump saying as much. The missive, sent out by the Trump team and dated Dec. 15, noted U.S.-Russian relations are critical for international safety and security, and continued, “I hope that after you assume the position of the President of the United States of America we will be able – by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner – to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.”
Trump’s response, released in a statement on Friday, said, “A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct. I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”
Putin also agreed with Trump when speaking of charges leveled by U.S. intelligence officials — suspicions echoed by Obama himself — that Russia (and perhaps Putin himself) hacked into and leaked Democratic operatives’ emails so as to influence the electoral outcome, Putin said that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats had only themselves to blame. “Trump answered that in a very good way,” Putin continued. “He said, ‘How would we know that it was Russia that hacked it? Maybe it was some other country or maybe someone lying on a sofa did it.”
Even threat of nuclear war didn’t seem to put Putin off Trump. On Thursday, after boasting to his Defense Ministry that Russia “is stronger now than any potential aggressor,” Putin said Moscow must look at strengthening its nuclear forces with an eye toward penetrating “any existing and prospective missile defense systems” — like, say, the missile defense system the United States built in Europe that Putin criticized yet again during his Friday presser.
Shortly thereafter, Trump tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” On Friday, the pajama-clad hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe clarified that Trump’s position on the matter was to “let it be an arms race.”
But Putin is unbothered by such commentary. “There is nothing new” to the comments, Putin told the press.
Perhaps, in working with each other, the American and Russian presidents would do well to remember the words with which Putin dismissed the reporter who tried to ask him about love Friday.
Update, Dec. 23 11:17 AM: This post was updated after receipt of the statement sent out by the Trump team regarding Putin’s Christmas note.
Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images