‘Is this not democracy?’: No conditions will make Russia return Crimea to Ukraine rule – Putin

Moscow will never return Crimea to Ukraine, because the republic overwhelmingly opted to reunite with Russia in a free referendum, Vladimir Putin has told Austrian ORF broadcaster, in an exclusive interview.

“There are no such conditions and there can never be” for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine, Putin, who is to visit Austria on Tuesday, said. Russia was forced to act in Crimea because of the “unconstitutional armed coup,” which took place in Ukraine in February 2014.

The President addressed the issue of Russian military presence on the peninsula at that time by saying that “our army was legally deployed in Crimea – under the agreement on our military base there.”

 
Car traffic on the Crimean Bridge's freeway section © Alexey Malgavko

And, following the regime change in Kiev, “the first thing we did was increase our contingent to guard our Armed Forces, our military facilities, because we immediately saw that they were being threatened,” he said.

The mostly Russian population of Crimea also “sensed danger, when trains started bringing aggressive nationalists there, when buses and personal vehicles were blocked, people naturally wanted to protect themselves,” Putin recalled, adding that “the first thing that occurred was to restore the rights that Ukraine itself had issued by granting Crimea autonomy.”

He pointed out that the decision to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine “was made by the Crimean parliament, which was elected in strict accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine before any such events.”

“Crimea gained independence through the free will of the Crimeans, expressed in an open referendum, not as a result of an invasion by Russian forces,” Putin said. The Russian forces were only in Crimea to ensure a free and independent plebiscite, he added.

READ MORE: Russia investigates Ukrainian judges suspected of violating Crimeans’ right to self-determination

The March 2014 referendum showed 96.77 percent of voters supported joining Russia, with an 83.1 percent voter turnout. “Is this not democracy? What is it then? And what is democracy?” Putin wondered.

But with ORF journalist Armin Wolf continuing to call Russia’s reunion with Crimea an “annexation,” Putin referred him to the example of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with broad Western backing. “Why do you not say Kosovo was annexed after the invasion of NATO troops? You do not say that. You are talking about the Kosovars’ right to self-determination," he said, adding that “the Kosovars did this by a parliamentary decision alone, while the Crimeans did it in a referendum.”

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Putin Expresses Condolences to Cuban Leader Over Boeing 737 Crash

Putin has expressed his condolences to the Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez over the recent Boeing 737 crash near José Marti International Airport in Cuba and wished a speedy recovery for those who survived the crash, Kremlin said.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolences to Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, over a deadly crash of a passenger jet in Havana airport, the Kremlin said in a statement Friday.

"The Russian head of state conveyed words of sympathy and support to the families and friends of those killed, as well as wishes of a speedy recovery to those who survived the crash," the telegram says.

Boeing 737 carrying 104 passengers and crew crashed shortly after a takeoff from the José Marti International Airport in Cuba. It was reported shortly after the crash that three people on the plane had survived, however, worker at Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital told Reuters later that one of the crash survivors had died from burns and other trauma.

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Russia: Trump promised to make visit to Moscow if Putin accepts invite to White House

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that President Trump indicated he could visit Moscow if Russian leader Vladimir Putin comes to the United States.

Lavrov told state television that Trump mentioned the possible trip when he called Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on his re-election to another six years in office.

State-run news agency RIA Novosti, citing the foreign ministry, said Trump invited Putin to Washington and said he would be glad to see his Russian counterpart in the White House.

Lavrov, who met with Trump in Washington in May, said Russia was expecting Trump to formalize the invitation, RIA Novosti reported. 

“We proceed from the fact that the U.S. president in a telephone conversation ... made such an invitation, said he would be glad to see (Putin) in the White House, would then be glad to meet on a reciprocal visit,” Lavrov said in comments posted on the foreign ministry's website.

“He returned to this topic a couple of times, so we let our American colleagues know that we do not want to impose, but we also do not want to be impolite, and that considering that President Trump made this proposal, we proceed from the position that he will make it concrete.”

Both the White House and the Kremlin previously revealed that Trump had invited Putin to the White House during the same call, when the two leaders discussed wanting to meet soon.

A visit by Putin to Washington would anger Trump's critics, amid special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible links between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russians who sought to influence the election by hacking emails and spreading fake news.

Trump has repeatedly said his campaign did not collude with Russia to gain advantage in the election. Lavrov has dismissed the meddling allegations as a baseless "claptrap."

Trump met face-to-face with Putin for the first time at the Group of 20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, in July. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

More: Trump won't say whether he would fire Mueller, but notes that he's 'still here'

More: Russia: 'Unscrupulous' U.S. behavior destabilizes world

More: Lavrov rejects as 'claptrap' charges of Russian election meddling

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Vladimir Putin Re-elected by Landslide 76.65 Pct

Moscow, Mar 19 (Prensa Latina) Russian leader Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly won reelection by landslide with 76.65 percent with 99 percent of the ballots counted according to the latest official reports at 05:21 local time.

The Russian Election Commission said Monday almost 55.5 million of voters supported his candidacy.

The above 76 percent vote collected is Putin's all time high electoral support, far higher than the 52.9 percent he got in 2000, his 71.31 percent in 2004 and 63.6 in 2012, the Russian Central Electoral Commission outlined.

Addressing a rally at his campaign headquarters, Putin thanked his supporters, shared views on key issues and lay out his plans for the future, on which he said: 'We need a leap forward.'

He said his international agenda will be to develop relations with nations on all continents, adding Russia is ready to overcome all difficulties with Europe, while underscoring that China is Moscow's strategic partner and he's planning to expand links with Beijing.

The President stressed 'it is important for Russians to understand that there are huge challenges before us, and we must overcome these challenges, we must complete the nation's tasks. And I count on us all to continue this work together.'

First-time Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin came in second with 11.83 percent, while veteran nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democratic party), who first ran against Boris Yeltsin in 1991, finished third with 5.6 percent.

The rest of the other five candidates running for president did not reached 2 percent.

They were Civil Initiative party leader Ksenia Sobchak, Sergei Baburin (All-People's Union party), Maxim Suraykin (Communists of Russia party), Boris Titov (Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights) and Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko party).

Results of the presidential election in Russia show the Russian people are happy with the domestic and foreign policies implemented by the current leadership and voted for the continuation of the political course, observer from Italy Claudio D'Amico told Sputnik News.

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Putin & Trump expected to establish dialogue vital for whole world at G20 meeting – Kremlin

The long-awaited meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, is expected to lay the groundwork for a working dialogue, which is vital for resolving the world’s conflicts, the Kremlin said.

“This is the first meeting, the first encounter of the two presidents, this is the main thing in this meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday, commenting on the Kremlin’s expectations for the upcoming meeting between Putin and Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7.

 
© Reuters / Sputnik

“[We have] expectations of establishing a working dialogue, which is probably vital for all the world in terms of improving efficiency in resolving a critical mass of conflicts and problems, which is growing day by day,” Peskov went on.

The Russian leader is preparing for the meeting with Trump the same way he is preparing for similar events at the G20, Peskov added. Putin will also meet French President Emmanuel Macron, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other world leaders during the two-day summit.

The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and ways of resolving them are possibly among the other issues on the agenda during the first meeting between the two leaders, according to Peskov.

“I think that [the two leaders will discuss] the Syrian [conflict] resolution, the Astana process, and the issues of possible Russian-American cooperation,” Peskov said, adding that the joint fight against terrorism will be discussed if the US is ready for it. The presidents may also discuss the Syrian settlement.

As for the Ukrainian issue, the meeting will provide “a great opportunity to repeat the Russian position on the fact that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements, the necessity to implement the agreements and taking measures to stop the provocations, which unfortunately occur from the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

Despite the full format of the bilateral meeting, Peskov said that it will be time-limited, as it will take place in the framework of the G20 summit. The Russian president will not have an opportunity to fully express his understanding of the Ukrainian conflict and its reasons.

On Tuesday, both Moscow and Washington confirmed that Putin and Trump will hold their first full-fledged meeting at the G20 summit on July 7. The Kremlin pointed out that it will not merely be a brief contact on the sidelines, but “a full-fledged ‘sit down’ meeting.” Previously, the leaders spoke only by phone.

The Trump-Putin meeting is grabbing attention in light of souring Russian-American relations, which are currently “at the zero mark,” according to Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov. Moscow and Washington have been at loggerheads, especially after Trump’s order to launch launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase near the city of Homs on April 7. The move was justified by Washington, accusing the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, which killed dozens of people. Damascus has denied those allegations, while Moscow has repeatedly called for an international investigation into the incident to be conducted.

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Putin: Trust between US & Russia degrading under Trump

Trust between Russia and the US has degraded under the Trump administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated. During his presidential election campaign, Trump said he would like the US to have better relations with Russia.

In an interview on Wednesday, Putin said that if Donald Trump had intended to bring about a thaw in US relations with Russia, he has failed to see this intention through.

“I would say the level of trust [between Russia and the US] is at a workable level, especially in the military dimension, but it hasn’t improved. On the contrary, it has degraded,” the Russian president told Mir broadcaster.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before a meeting in Moscow on April 12, 2017. © Alexander Nemenov

Trump’s repeated claims that he could mend relations between Washington and Moscow has fueled accusations that he secretly colluded with Russia to win the US presidential election last year. His administration is currently under a congressional investigation over alleged ties with Russia.

Moscow has distanced itself from domestic US tensions, neither supporting nor criticizing Trump officially. It denied preferring Trump to his Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton, during the election campaign and said it would judge his administration by its actions rather than its words.

Trump’s latest decision to attack Russian ally Syria over an alleged chemical weapons attack drew sharp criticism from the Kremlin. Moscow considers the decision rushed, illegal and playing into the hands of terrorist groups.

Putin and Trump are yet to meet face to face to discuss the tensions between Russia and the US. A meeting of the two leaders has not been scheduled so far, even though Moscow has indicated it is willing.

READ MORE: Putin ready to meet Trump at upcoming Arctic summit in Finland

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Idlib ‘chemical attack’ was false flag to set Assad up, more may come – Putin

Russia has information of a potential incident similar to the alleged chemical attack in Idlib province, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb, President Vladimir Putin said. The goal is to discredit the government of Syrian President Assad, he added.

“We have reports from multiple sources that false flags like this one – and I cannot call it otherwise – are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including the southern suburbs of Damascus. They plan to plant some chemical there and accuse the Syrian government of an attack,” he said at a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Moscow.

Damascus denied the allegations, noting that the targeted area may have been hosting chemical weapons stockpiles belonging to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or Al-Nusra Front jihadists.

The incident has not been properly investigated as yet, but the US fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in a demonstration of force over what it labeled a chemical attack by Damascus.

“President Mattarella and I discussed it, and I told him that this reminds me strongly of the events in 2003, when the US representatives demonstrated at the UN Security Council session the presumed chemical weapons found in Iraq. The military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage,” he added.

It was the first time the US had targeted Syrian troops deliberately. The White House says it will repeat military action in response to any possible new chemical weapon attacks.

“The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action,” spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.

Putin reiterated the call to properly investigate what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, saying that the alleged use of chemical weapons demands one.

“We are planning to address the corresponding UN structure in The Hague and call on the international community to thoroughly investigate all those reports and take appropriate action based on the results of such a probe,” he said.

A separate report of a potential false flag operation in Syria came from the Russian General Staff, which said militants were transporting toxic agents into several parts of Syria, including Eastern Ghouta, the site of the 2013 chemical weapons incident.

“These actions are aimed at creating a new pretext for accusing the government of Syria of more chemical weapons attacks and provoking more strikes by the US,” said Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of Operations.

cal weapons found in Iraq. The military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage,” he added.

 

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Putin ready to meet Trump at upcoming Arctic summit in Finland

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would be ready to meet with US President Donald Trump at the upcoming summit of Arctic countries in Finland, if the talks are properly prepared.

“I believe Finland suits this purpose well, and Helsinki is a very convenient platform to organize an event like this,” Putin said, when asked if he thought a meeting between him and Trump was possible in Finland.

Putin was speaking at the International Arctic Forum in Russia’s northwestern city of Arkhangelsk.

However, he added that any meeting between him and Trump should be well prepared “by both sides.”

“If this happens, we – and I personally – would be glad to take part in such an event. If not, the meeting [with Trump] could take place in the framework of the G20 summit [set to take place in July],” Putin concluded.

 
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin © Reuters / Sputnik

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said earlier that his country would “certainly be very happy to have the opportunity to hold such a summit.”

The summit is set to take place at Finlandia Hall in Helsinki on September 18-20, 2017, according to the event’s official website.

Russia considers the US a great power, and would like to get its relationship with Washington back on track, and claims alleging anything else are lies and fiction, Putin said.

The Russian president added that, while relations between Moscow and Washington are currently “at zero level,” he counts on the situation improving someday – and the sooner the better.

The anti-Russian card is being played by various political forces in the US to reinforce the positions of certain politicians, Putin added, slamming as nonsense claims that the Russian ambassador to the US had held “spy” meetings with officials connected to Trump.

Putin also slammed the way the Russian ambassador is being treated in the US. The diplomat’s contacts have been limited and any meetings he has are regarded as a spy activities, according to the Russian president.

Putin warned that the attempt of some US political forces to bring US-Russian relations to the point of “Caribbean crisis” [October missile crisis] is a huge mistake.

Putin also confirmed that he will personally meet with Rex Tillerson to discuss the fight against terrorism during the US secretary of state’s upcoming visit to Moscow.

The US State Department said Tillerson is planning to visit Russia in April following a G-7 meeting in Italy. An exact date hasn’t been announced.

READ MORE: US delegation ushers out media as Tillerson starts talking to Lavrov at G20

The first high-profile Russia-US meeting was held in mid-February, when Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Bonn, although journalists were asked to leave when the US’ top diplomat began speaking.

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