Putin voices support for Trump and Brexit

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46630723

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during annual news conference in Moscow, RussiaImage copyright
EPA

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Russia’s President Vladimir Putin criticised the political establishment in the UK and US

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has accused the UK and US political classes of “disrespecting” the public by questioning the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election.

“They don’t want to recognise [President Trump’s] victory. That’s disrespect of voters,” Mr Putin said.

“It’s the same in Britain: Brexit happened, but nobody wants to implement it.”

The president’s comments came at his year-end press conference in Moscow.

Russia’s leader also said British Prime Minister Theresa May has no choice but to follow through with Brexit, as failing to do so would undermine UK democracy.

“She must enact the will of the people, expressed during the referendum,” he said. “Or otherwise it is not a referendum at all: doing it over and over again if someone did not like it [the result]. Is it a democracy?”

Mr Putin described relations with the UK as in “deadlock,” saying it was in both countries’ interests to improve matters.

“Are we interested in restoring full relations with Britain? Yes, we are interested,” he said. “And we know that British [companies] work pretty actively here.”

Putin calms a rowdy crowd

Steven Rosenberg, BBC News, Moscow

These are strange times. Today I watched the leader of an increasingly authoritarian Russia lecturing the West on the true meaning of democracy.

President Putin’s message was basically this: You don’t like Trump? Tough. The American voters elected him.

You don’t like Brexit? Tough again. The British people voted for it.

This from a political leader who, famously, created a system of “managed democracy” in Russia (in which the Kremlin does all the managing).

At times, the news conference looked and sounded more like a circus – journalists shouting at the tops of their voices to attract the attention of the Kremlin “ringmaster” up front to get a question. At one point, President Putin had to ask everyone to calm down.

By the end of the “show” my arm was aching. I’d been holding up a BBC News sign for nearly four hours. Sadly, the president didn’t take my question.

I had planned to ask about the Salisbury poisoning. Next time, perhaps…

The UK is one of a number of Western countries that have enacted economic sanctions against Russia over its annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in southern England.

Mr Putin also addressed his country’s strained ties with the US, saying he did not know if he would meet President Donald Trump soon or not.

“We must normalise our bilateral relations; we are ready for this, as soon as the other side is ready too,” he said.

Washington has invited the Russian leader to visit in 2019, but such a visit could prove controversial because US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow meddled in the 2016 US presidential election in favour of Mr Trump.

At a summit in July of this year in Finland, Mr Trump was heavily criticised for appearing to back Mr Putin’s denials of election interference over his own intelligence agencies’ assessments. Mr Trump later said he “misspoke”.

Mr Putin’s comments came a day after the US Treasury said it would lift sanctions on the aluminium businesses of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, one of 24 Russian businessmen targeted by the US authorities, after he reduced his stakes in the firms. Mr Deripaska, a political ally of Mr Putin, remains under sanction.

Nuclear threat

Mr Putin said there were a growing tendency to underestimate the threat of nuclear war, and criticised President Trump’s plan to withdraw from a key nuclear treaty with Russia.

“We are essentially witnessing the breakdown of the international arms control order and (the start of) an arms race,” he said.

Mr Trump said the US would pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty because Russia had “violated” it.

The deal bans ground-launched medium-range missiles, with a range of 500-5,500km (310-3,400 miles).

Russia’s president also accused the US of having world domination on its mind.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump announced that he would withdraw US troops from Syria, saying Islamic State forces had been defeated there.

Mr Putin cautiously welcomed the move, but questioned whether it would actually happen.

“We don’t see signs of a pullout,” he said, adding that the US “has been in Afghanistan 17 years, and they always say they’re withdrawing”.

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