Every year, Russian president Vladimir Putin holds a huge, end-of-the-year press conference for Russian and international press. Ukraine is traditionally an important topic. This year, Putin held his 15th year-end press conference on December 19. What Putin said about Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskyy, Kremlin influence over the leaders of the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics,” Ukrainian land reform, and who, by his words, “grabbed me by the throat” in Minsk, when will the eastern Ukrainian border be closed, payments by Gazprom to Ukraine’s Naftogaz, and what he thinks about presidential term limits in Russia – in our piece.
About Volodymyr Zelenskyy
"I think it’s wrong to talk about the personalities of your colleagues. I don’t even talk about the personalities of former leaders who have left their post. My tongue doesn’t move to talk about actively [working] people. When a person achieves this kind of post, that means that they’ve gone through a selection and these are all not ordinary people, like a minimum."
On the Minsk Agreements
“There’s nothing except the Minsk Agreements. Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s statement that he made after the negotiations in Paris, that they could be re-examined, is quite alarming. If this re-examination starts, about what is agreed to in Minsk, then the whole situation could his a complete dead-end. Representatives in Minsk of the former president Petro Poroshenko kept insisting that this document should carry the signatures of the leaders of the two unacknowledged republics. They were just seizing me by the throat, all three of them. (Petro Poroshenko, former French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel – ed.) And the representatives of the unrecognized republics refused to do so. So I’ll clear up, to put it this way, the ins and outs of our negotiations in Minsk. But in the end we managed to convince them, and they signed it. That’s how Ukraine itself recognized that this authority exists."
Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin during his press conference, December 19, 2019, Moscow, Russia. Photo: kremlin.ru
About the Special Status Law in the Donbas
“The law on special status (the law sets the procedure for returning self-rule in the separate territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions – ed.) – is a key point in the Minsk Agreements. There’s a positive sign in the fact that it was extended for another year, but it needs to be implemented in the Constitution [of Ukraine] and give it a permanent character. But, it seems that neither the former Ukrainian government, nor the current one, wants to do this. There needs to be direct dialogue with the Donbas. Right now changes to the Constitutions regarding decentralization have been announced. Is that instead of the Minsk Agreements? If this concerns the Donbas, then it has to be agreed with those regions. But no such agreement exists.”
About Foreign Fighters in the Donbas
“There are no foreign fighters. There are local police, local self-defense forces which are composed of local residents. But where do they get weapons? Many conflict points in the world see different types of armed actions with the use of tanks and artillery. Where do they get this equipment? From sympathetic governments and leaders. But it is [the residents'] weapons.”
On Closing the Ukraine-Russia Border at the Donbas
"Closing the border must occur on the second day following local elections. (local elections on the temporarily occupied territories of the Donbas – ed.) And it will end only after a comprehensive political settlement, which rests on the implementation of changes to the Ukrainian Constitution. And the granting to those republics the rights that are written into the Minsk Agreements."
On Solving the Donbas Conflict by Force
"The core problem is in the fact that there is no desire to solve this problem by dialogue with people, instead of trying to create some favorable conditions for themselves to resolve it forcibly, with the help of tanks, artillery, and aviation. I told Zelenskyy: “You used aviation.” And the current Ukrainian president replied “What aviation?” He forgot about this, or he didn’t know about it. If there are further attempts to solve this with force, I don’t think that it’ll work out. There’s a well-known saying: 'There are no empty carriages in the Donbas.' It’s, you know, sort of a criminal, fighting [phrase], but it can be found in people’s souls. Proud people live there, that’s why it’s improbable that the problem can be solved with the use of some kind of forceful solution."
On a New Normandy Format Summit
“About future meetings, let’s assume that in April it will occur, if there will be some sort of positive change. There are some, speaking objectively. First of all, the law on special status was extended in the end, so the basis for regulating this hasn’t gone anywhere. Secondly, there was after all a withdrawal of troops from some key points. True, for some reason, our Ukrainian partners don’t want withdrawals on the entire contact line. In my view, this is a mistake, but that’s their position. The number of shootings has dropped, this is also a positive thing, but unfortunately some shootings still occur. But there are things that are alarming, as well. This are things that need to be considered. In that sense, it’s appropriate to continue working in the Normandy format.”
About the Stockholm Arbitration Decision to Award Naftogaz $3 Billion from Gazprom
"There is a decision, that’s true. And we need to move from this. I’m certain that this decision from the Stockholm arbitration does not carry any judicial, or lawful character, but probably a political one. Part of the basis for [this decision] was 'in relation to the difficult economic circumstances in Ukraine.'"
On Gas Transit
"We’ll be looking for a decision that satisfies everyone, including Ukraine. Regardless of the construction of new objects like Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, Turkstream, we’ll keep transiting through Ukraine. The question is about the quantity of this transit, and in the time period of the contract. We’re not going to sign a contract on some sort of time period, and then with that stop transiting. No, we’re interested in [this transit] ourselves, we want it, it’s a convenient route for us. We’re ready to offer gas to Ukrainians at a 20-25% discount. This is possible. This would allow setting the end customers lower prices as well, instead of raising them as is currently planned. All benefits, as far as I understand, will be cancelled starting from January 1, and the average price of gas will be around $300 for all customer categories, including people. We’re on the way to this agreement. And we’re going to aim for that which will let the Ukrainian side feel happy with this agreement. We have no desire to exacerbate the energy situation and somehow use it to influence the situation in Ukraine.”
About Land Reform in Ukraine
"Land has a sacred status to Ukrainians. And I can understand that: it’s golden land. But, of course, the opposition has immediately started to [land reform] and has started to bring some domestic political hits against Zelenskyy."
About U.S. Aid for Ukraine
"We keep being blamed in relation to Ukraine, [they] want to help [Ukraine] somehow. But actually, what they want to do – is for Ukraine to fill its budget at Russia’s expense. If they’d only be given the chance. They only get credit guarantees, this isn’t live money – real support is missing. Two figs – there’s nothing there."
On Ukrainian Identity
"Well, we have some arguments with Ukraine. There’s this Ukrainian identity – yes, it exists. Who created this? Count Potocki, a well-known researcher, scholar, and writer, who first spoke about Ukrainians as a separate ethnicity. Then there were other Polish researchers who even stopped counting Ukrainians as Slavs. They speculated that [Ukrainians] were the descendants of some nomadic tribes. But this is all complete nonsense, and we should know the truth. We should understand that at some stage there was some sort of event connected to the appearance of identity. We should treat this with respect."
The press conference of Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin, December 19, 2019, Moscow, Russia. Photo: kremlin.ru
On Russia-Belarus Integration
"Russians and Belarusian people – this is nearly the same thing (just like Ukrainians and Russians.) There is huge work ahead for the integration with Belarus. There’s desire [for integration] on both sides, and we’re moving forward. We’ll keep working on it."
On Presidential Term Limits in Russia
"Regarding previous changes, they were only related to the amount of terms. What could have been done with the amount of these terms? To remove the word “consecutive”. Two consecutive terms your loyal servant served you, and then I left this position and had the constitutional right to return to the presidency."
At the very end of the press conference, questions were posed to Putin regarding his alleged daughters – specifically about what relation he has to public figure and businessman Katerina Tikhonova. The Russian president did not deny his parentage of Tikhonova, but instead described in detail about the company “Innopraktika”, which Tikhonova runs.
The press conference lasted 4 hours and 19 minutes, and was the third longest press conference that Putin has held with journalists.
/By Vsevolod Lazutin
/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski
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