UPDATES WITH MORE REMARKS BY RUSSIAN PRESIDENT; CHANGES DECK
By Elena Teslova
MOSCOW (AA) - Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that the US agreed to start talks on security guarantees for Russia early next year in Geneva.
Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, Putin said that so far, the US reaction to Russia's proposal on security guarantees is positive.
"Our American partners say they are ready to start these negotiations at the very beginning of the next year in Geneva," the president said.
Summarizing Russia's proposal, Putin said: "Without any tricks, we simply raised the question that there should be no more NATO movement to the east."
Asked if Russia would provide a guarantee of non-invasion to Ukraine if the talks on security guarantees start, Putin said: "Our actions will depend on the concrete result of the talks."
Putin recalled that the West promised to Russia in the 1990s not to enlarge eastward and then there were five waves of expansion and finally the alliance came to Ukraine, directly on the Russian border.
He noted that all that happened when Russia and the US had an incredibly high level of trust -- at that time the US intelligence officers routinely monitored the work of the Russian military nuclear facilities.
However, despite good relations, the West “supported terrorists in the North Caucasus and used clearly terrorist organizations for attempts to break up the Russian Federation,” and continued to advance its military infrastructure closer to Russia, Putin added.
“We are not threatening anyone. Have we come there, to the borders of the USA? Or to the borders of the UK, or somewhere? They came to us and now they still say: 'No, now Ukraine will be in NATO. So there will be (attack) systems there too. Or (even if) not in NATO, there will be bases and strike weapons systems on a bilateral basis.
“And you demand some guarantees from me. You have to give us guarantees -- you! And immediately, now,” he stressed.
Asked why the West fears Russia, Putin said it is because of the country’s size.
Last month, Putin called on NATO to start talks aiming to provide Russia with reliable, legally binding, and long-term security guarantees.
On Dec. 15, Yury Ushakov, the presidential advisor on foreign policy issues, announced that Russia handed the draft of its proposals to the US and NATO, and two days later, the Russian Foreign Ministry published the text of the draft agreements, suggested by Russia.
- Pandemic and economy
The Russian economy happened to be quite well prepared for the shocks provoked by the pandemic, it declined only by 3% and quickly recovered -- currently, Russia has the lowest level of foreign debt globally, with significant international reserves of $625.5 billion, Putin noted.
The biggest challenge that Russia has been facing for many years and that was aggravated by the pandemic is its demographic problems, the life expectancy has decreased, mortality, on the contrary, increased, the president said.
The mortality rate went up partly because of the pandemic and people's unwillingness to get vaccinated, he added.
Putin denied Russia hides the true mortality rate, saying that on the contrary, the government tries to be ultimately open to show people how dangerous the virus is.
Currently, Russia has 59.4% COVID-19 collective immunity, which is far from the target of 80%, he stressed.
Putin promised that there will be no forced vaccination or punishment and the government will continue educational and information work to achieve the vaccination goals, he said.
The Russian leader pointed out that the demography has a direct link to the economy as the growth of the population, development of the infrastructure, and increase of labor productivity are important drivers of economic growth.
The struggle against coronavirus pandemic continues, and currently, there are concerns connected to the dangers posed by the new omicron strain, he said.
“A group of Russian scientists and experts is now in South Africa, where their colleagues actually discovered this new strain. They are working there, and are quite successful (in their work)," Putin said.
There will be new waves of the pandemic induced by coronavirus’s ability to mutate and the only way to stop the pandemic is by global vaccination and mutual recognition of the vaccines, he said.
- Putin suggests turning page on Navalny poisoning because of 'lack of evidence’
Russia many times requested the bodies that found Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny was poisoned with highly toxic Novichok nerve agent to present some evidence in order to open a criminal case and investigate what happened, but in vain, Putin noted.
The Russian law enforcement many times contacted their German colleagues regarding a joint investigation of the incident but did not receive any response, he said.
“So let's turn this page if there is nothing to answer,” he said.
Turning to the law on foreign agents, Putin said it does not prohibit the work of organizations recognized as foreign agents, it only shows their sources of funding.
Putin recognized there are problems in the Russian penitentiary system and promised to investigate the crimes that had been committed “so that everyone understands that punishments for these offenses are inevitable.”
- Putin says boycott of 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics ‘attempt to contain China’
Speaking about Russia-China relations, Putin said the countries are “a serious stability factor on the international arena.”
He praised China as “the undisputed leader of both the world economy and the Asian economy” and said Moscow and Beijing have successful cooperation in a number of areas.
“We cooperate in the field of security. The Chinese army is significantly equipped with the most advanced weapons systems. We are even developing some high-tech weapons together today. We work in space, we work in the field of aviation, and both on airplanes and helicopters,” he said.
He confirmed Russia and China are developing cooperation between the armed forces, which includes joint exercises, participation in international war games, joint patrols at sea and in the air.
“This is an absolutely comprehensive strategic partnership that has had no precedent in history so far, at least between Russia and China,” the president added.
Putin slammed the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, saying this is an "attempt to contain China."
“This decision is unacceptable and erroneous. … What is the reason for this? Attempts to restrain the development of the People's Republic of China, there are no other motives and there cannot be,” he said.
Sport should unite people, not create problems between states, and the boycott will not restrain the development of China, he stressed.