The World According to Vladimir Putin – 2018 Edition

On December 20, 2018, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin held his annual press conference, his fourteenth and first of his new term in office.  The event was held at Moscow’s World Trade Center and ran for nearly 3 hours and 45 minutes.  This year, the event was attended by a record 1700 journalists from Russia, Asia, Europe and the United States, up from 1640 in 2017.

Here is a link to the entire annual press conference which is translated into English:

Here is a link to the English language transcript of the press conference.

President Putin began by outlining Russia’s economic data for the first nine months of 2018, noting that the nation’s unemployment rate is expected to drop from a record low of 5.2 percent in 2017 to 4.8 percent in 2018.  Russia’s trade balance is expected to reach $190 million in 2018 ($157 million in the first three quarters of 2018) and the nation’s gold and foreign currency reserves have grown by over 7 percent to $464 billion.  For the first time since 2011, Russia will have a federal budget surplus of 2.1 percent of GDP, in contrast, the United States ran a budget deficit of 3.9 percent of GDP in fiscal 2018.  This is a dramatic improvement from the early 2000s when the deficit was about 3 percent of GDP and the non-oil-and-gas deficit was 13 percent in 2009. 

Let’s look at some of Mr. Putin’s comments on key issues that have made headline news in the West over the past year.

Given the ongoing sanctions that have been wielded by the West to punish Russia over its moves in Crimea, I found these comments in reference to Russia’s present and future economic growth interesting and how Russia is planning for the future:

By the way, you mentioned the projected 2 percent growth for the next two years. Yes, in the next years, 2019–2020, two percent each, but from 2021, the Government is already planning 3 percent, and then more. Therefore, I strongly hope that we will manage to do all this. Some fluctuations are probably possible, but, I repeat, the most important thing is that we need… Do you see what we need to do? We need to join another league of economies, and not only in terms of volumes. I think that taking the fifth place in terms of volume is quite possible. We used to rank fifth in terms of the economy, in purchasing power parity, and we will do it again, I think. However, we need to ascend to another league in terms of the quality of the economy. This is what our national projects are aimed at….

After all, we need to talk about bilateral relations; we are interested in this, as well as our American partners are, by the way. Of course, there is no super-global interest. Our mutual trade stands at a meagre 28 billion, or even lower now, less than 28, 25 to 27 billion maybe. This is nothing, zero. With China, we will reach 100 billion this year, and with the US, everything is in decline. Who is interested in this? No one, not even the President of the United States, who is promoting the idea of reviving the economy, as he says, in his quest to make America great again.” (my bold)

As we’ve seen, both China and Russia are both working to diversify their international trading partnerships.   By working around trade with the United States (i.e. joining another league of economies), Russia can blunt the impact of American-led and American-driven economic sanctions.

Here is an interesting exchange about the potential for nuclear war and Russia’s response to the United States withdrawal from the INF Treaty.  When reading this section, it is important to keep in mind that the Soviet Union lost at least 11 million soldiers and between 7 and 20 million civilians during the Second World War.  By comparison, the United States lost roughly 400,000 soldiers and almost no civilians.  As well, while entire major cities in Russia were both besieged and levelled, not a single bomb was dropped on the United States:

Anton Vernitsky: Mr President, as Soviet-era children, all of us feared a nuclear war very much. As you remember, various songs dealt with this issue. One of them had the following lyrics: “Sunny world: Yes, yes, yes; nuclear explosion: No, no, no.”

Vladimir Putin: Are you not afraid today?

Anton Vernitsky: Forty years have passed, and major media outlets on both sides of the ocean are beginning to publish a scenario for a nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. The word “war” is sounding more and more often at household level, in kitchens.

Mr President, how can you calm down my little son who, just like me, also fears a nuclear war today? What words and actions can calm us all down?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I think you are right.

I just thought that all this, including the danger of such developments in the world, is now being hushed up and played down to some extent. It seems impossible or something that is not so important. At the same time, if, God forbid, something like this happens, it might destroy the whole of civilisation or perhaps the entire planet.

These issues are therefore serious, and it is a great pity that there is such a tendency to underestimate the problem, and that this tendency is probably becoming more pronounced. What are the current distinguishing features and dangers?

First, all of us are now witnessing the disintegration of the international system for arms control and for deterring the arms race. This process is taking place after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that, as I have already noted a thousand times, was the cornerstone in the sphere of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deterring the arms race.

After that, we were forced to respond by developing new weapons systems that could breach these ABM systems. Now, we hear that Russia has gained an advantage. Yes, this is true. So far, the world has no such weapons systems. Leading powers will develop them, but, as yet they do not exist.

In this sense, there are certain advantages. But, speaking of the entire strategic balance, this is just an element of deterrence and for equalising parities. This is just the preservation of parity, and nothing more.

They are now about to take another step and withdraw from the INF Treaty. What will happen? It is very difficult to imagine how the situation will unfold. What if these missiles show up in Europe? What are we supposed to do then?

Of course, we will need to take some steps to ensure our safety. And they should not whine later that we are allegedly trying to gain certain advantages. We are not. We are simply trying to maintain the balance and ensure our security.

The same goes for the START III Treaty, which expires in 2021. There are no talks on this issue. Is it because no one is interested, or believes it is necessary? Fine, we can live with that.

We will ensure our security. We know how to do it. But in general, for humanity, this is very bad, because this takes us to a very dangerous line.

Finally, there is another circumstance I cannot ignore. There is a trend to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. There are plans to create low-impact nuclear charges, which translates to tactical rather than global use. Such ideas are coming from Western analysts who say it is okay to use such weapons. However, lowering the threshold can lead to a global nuclear disaster. This is one danger we are facing today.

However, I believe humanity has enough common sense and enough of a sense of self-preservation not to take these things to the extreme.”  (my bolds)

With the news that the United States was withdrawing its forces from Syria now that it had accomplished its mission of destroying the Islamic State, Rachel Marsden from the Chicago Tribune asked the following questions:

Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria. He also announced that, in his opinion, the United States defeated ISIS in Syria, he made that very clear.

What is your position with respect to his statements, both on the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria and also with his statement regarding the defeat of ISIS by the United States?

And, secondly, do you have concern that the American troops will remain in some form? There has been much discussion, for example, around the presence, potentially, of contractors in other jurisdictions where the United States is either out of militarily or might want to be out of militarily but in a more discreet way.”

Here is Mr. Putin’s response:

“As concerns the defeat of ISIS, overall I agree with the President of the United States. I already said that we achieved significant progress in the fight against terrorism in that territory and delivered major strikes on ISIS in Syria.

There is a risk of these and similar groups migrating to neighbouring regions and Afghanistan, to other countries, to their home countries, and they are partly returning.

It is a great danger for all of us, including Russia, the United States, Europe, Asian countries, including Central Asia. We know that, we understand the risk fully. Donald is right about that, and I agree with him.

As concerns the withdrawal of American troops, I do not know what that is. The United States have been present in, say, Afghanistan, for how long? Seventeen years, and every year they talk about withdrawing the troops. But they are still there. This is my second point….

Is the presence of American troops required there? I do not think it is. However, let us not forget that their presence, the presence of your troops, is illegitimate as it was not approved by a UN Security Council resolution. The military contingent can only be there under a resolution of the UN Security Council or at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian Government. Russian troops were invited by the Syrian Government. The United States did not get either of these so if they decide to withdraw their troops, it is the right decision. (my bolds)

Even the United States is concerned about the migration of tens of thousands of potential terrorists as I wrote in this posting.

Here is Mr. Putin’s solution to the “Syria problem”:

The current issue on the agenda is building a constitutional committee.

By the way, when we met in Istanbul – I mean Russia, Turkey, France and Germany – we agreed to make every possible effort to create this constitutional committee and Russia, for its part, has done everything in its power for this to happen.

As strange as it may seem, we fully agreed on the list of members with President al-Assad, who designated 50 people and was involved in selecting 50 more from civil society. Despite the fact that he is not happy with everything, he agreed with this.

Turkey, which represents the interests of the opposition, also agreed. Iran agreed. We submitted the list to the UN and, as Minister Lavrov reported to me just yesterday, unexpectedly, prompted by our partners – Germany, France and the United States – UN representatives (Mr de Mistura) decided to wait and see.

I do not understand what is going on there but at any rate, I want to believe that this work is in its final stage. Maybe not by the end of this year but in the beginning of the next the list will be agreed and this will open the next stage of the settlement, which will be political settlement.

Here is a rather interesting exchange regarding Russia’s place in the world:

Ann Maria Simmons: I want to know if you really want this. Also, please, what is the real goal of your foreign policy? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: With regard to ruling the world, we know where the headquarters that is trying to do so is located, and it is not in Moscow. However, this is related to the leading role of the United States in the global economy and defence spending: the United States is spending over $700 billion on defence, while we spend only $46 billion.

Just think of it, we have 146 million people in Russia, whereas the NATO countries’ population is 600 million, and you think our goal is to rule the world? This is a cliché imposed on public opinion in Western countries in order to resolve intra-bloc and domestic political issues.

When I say intra-bloc, I mean that in order for NATO to rally countries around itself, it needs an external threat. It does not work otherwise. You have to have someone to rally against. As a major nuclear power, Russia fits the bill perfectly…

In fact, the main goal of our foreign policy is to provide favourable conditions for the Russian Federation, its economy and social sphere, to ensure unfettered movement forward and to strengthen our country from the inside, above all, so that it can take its rightful place in the international arena as an equal among equals.

We are in favour of consolidating the system of international law, ensuring unconditional compliance with the UN Charter, and using this platform to develop equal relations with all the participants of international affairs.”

Let’s close this posting with a look at what Mr. Putin had to say about the situation regarding Crimea, the main reason why the United States and its European lapdogs imposed sanctions on Russia:

Artyom Artemenko (Crimea 24 television network): Mr President, you recently said that the restrictions Russia is facing from some countries have a direct bearing on the people living in Crimea who voted for reunification with Russia in 2014. Can you explain what you meant? How do we deal with this? Thank you.

Vladimir Putin: I did say this, even though I can hardly recall where I was at the time, but I can explain it. This is an interesting situation. What we hear from the outside is that Russia annexed Crimea. But what does annexation mean? It means a forcible takeover. If this had been an annexation and a takeover by force, the people in Crimea would have had nothing to do with it and would not be to blame. But if they came out and voted, this was not an annexation. So what is going on? After all, sanctions were imposed against them, against you. What are these sanctions? Restriction on mobility, restrictions on border crossings, visas, financial transactions, insurance companies, marine infrastructure use and the use of other facilities. These measures affect almost everyone living there. They were the ones targeted by these sanctions, and this is not just about singling out specific individuals like the government leaders in the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, but about targeting everyone. If they had had nothing to do with it, if it had been annexation, why were the people sanctioned? But if you were sanctioned for taking part in a specific vote, then they would have to admit that it actually took place. This is what this is about, and this is what I meant.”

While you may not necessarily believe what Mr. Putin has to say, you must ask yourself this question:

When was the last time that the political leader of your nation sat down for nearly 3 hours in a question and answer session and had an audience of 1700 journalists?  Despite what Western media says, Mr. Putin’s approval rating is still the envy of most of the West’s elected leadership as shown here:

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