Putin’s new revelations
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eleventh annual large scale press conference was perhaps the most boring of all the previous ones. Meanwhile, Crimea and Donbas, who until recently have vehemently shouted out “Putin, come!” were left out of Putin’s Thursday agenda.
Ahead of the press conference, the illegitimate Crimean authorities have decided to organize public airing of this event in all regions across the peninsula. They broadcast the presser from the so-called “Putinmobiles," which were deployed in Crimea amid the recent blackout due to the limited power supplies from mainland Ukraine.
Crimeans were told about Sevastopol
However, those few local residents who decided to watch the “show,” froze around the mobile TV centers in vain - the President of Russia failed to remember of their problems throughout a three-hour Q&A. Wrapping up his speech, he only mentioned that, while dealing with Crimea’s energy grid, he found out that the equipment of "Krymenergo" [local power grid operator] is obsolete, “made back in the 70’s.” Alas, he offered no solution on what to do about it.
The residents of the Black Sea Navy port city of Sevastopol were a bit more satisfied, as Putin pledged development of the city "on several fronts."
Firstly, he pledged the development of Sevastopol as the naval base, which he believes is "an important element of the naval infrastructure in this region of the world, in Europe." However, he made a remark that this base is considerably outdated and can’t compete with the bases in Vladivostok and on the Kamchatka Peninsula, since the latter have a direct access to the oceans. However, Putin promised to Sevastopol that the fleet will be equipped with new ships and submarines, and then, for some reason, told about a brand new "Rostov-on-Don" sub, which has recently been relocated to... the port of Novorossiysk.
Secondly, as the Silicon Valley: "Some people have the idea to develop Sevastopol as Silicon Valley. Is that possible? Of course, it is."
And, thirdly, as a recreational area, because the territory of Sevastopol goes beyond the “city limits.”
Finally, Putin has traditionally promised to "help Crimea, in general, and Sevastopol, in particular." Well, as they say, “promises, promises…”
Russian military in Donbas and Putin’s Ukrainian hostages
At the same time, Donbas heard no promises whatsoever. But a real sensation was the Vladimir Putin admitting Russian military presence in the east of Ukraine. A year ago at the very same press conference, when answering a question by an UNIAN reporter, Roman Tsymbaliuk, the Russian president said that there were no Russian troops in Donbas: "All the people who fulfill their duty by the call of their hearts or voluntarily participate in any hostilities, including in the "south-east" of Ukraine, are not mercenaries, because they get no money for it."
Today, once again answering the question by Tsymbaliuk, who told Putin that the two captured GRU officers, Alexandrov and Yerofeyev, said Hello, Vladimir Putin has dramatically changed his rhetoric "We have never said there are no people there who are engaged in solving certain issues, including those in the military sphere, but this does not mean that there are regular Russian troops." Thus, the Russian Commander-in-Chief has actually acknowledged that the Russian prisoners in Ukraine, the military intelligence officers officers captain Alexandrov and private Yerofeyev, whose case is being considered by the Ukrainian court, are in fact the Russian military servicemen. And that the Russian military have in fact been in Donbas.
As they say, feel the difference. Should anyone trust Vladimir Putin when he reiterates unwillingness to further escalate the conflict in Donbas, stressing that he stands for the conflict to be resolved? It’s a rhetorical question, I guess.
The President of the Russian Federation did not bother to directly answer the question whether he is ready to exchange Yerofeyev and Alexandrov for the Ukrainian prisoners - Savchenko, Kolchenko, Sentsov, Afanasyev, Klykh and others, who have been illegally held in captivity in Russia. Instead, the Kremlin’s master began a vague talk about the need for the Ukrainian authorities and the pro-Russian rebels in Donbas to reach an agreement and make an “all-for-all” swap. However, the answer may well be seen as recognition of the fact that all of the Ukrainian prisoners in Russia are in fact hostage to Putin. And he will play their card in the future negotiations on Ukraine.
Ukraine and Turkey should blame themselves
By the way, the fact that Putin swept away questions regarding Russia’s internal economic issues and the impact of sanctions against Russia is in favor of the opinion that Russia will continue to destabilize the situation wherever it can. Putin’s eyes only flared when he spoke on the issues of Ukraine, Turkey and Syria.
According to Vladimir Putin, despite the fact that Ukraine is "our brotherly Republic, and I don’t get tired of repeating it," the economic relations will worsen from January 1, 2016, "because, unfortunately, we have to exclude Ukraine from the [CIS] free trade area": "Negotiations with the EU on this issue have seen no result, unfortunately. We aimed at maintaining our economic relations with Ukraine. But Ukraine is unilaterally exiting from this regime, joining the European regulations. But our products do not meet these requirements yet... Perhaps, Russia would welcome the idea of meeting European standards, but it requires time and investment. And our external funding has been blocked."
In other words, the relations will deteriorate, but these are not sanctions against Ukraine. "This is not our choice, but they wished not to listen to us," said Putin.
As for Turkey, the Russian president claims that it’s Ankara to blame for the latest deterioration. "The actions of the Turkish authorities in relation to our aircraft are a hostile act," said Putin.
It’s as if Vladimir Putin did not now the existence of Turkomans, ethnically close to Turks, who live in the area, bombed by the Russian warplanes. "Really, was it that difficult to pick up the phone or use military channels to ask us not to strike? No one said anything," he said.
However, the Kremlin boss said that in response to "aggression" by Turkey, Russia increased its presence in Syria, the number of combat aircraft, installed anti-aircraft systems and air defense systems… He dared Turkey fly in that area.
A Syrian "peacemaker"
The Russian president also paid a lot of his time to the Syrian issue. It was interesting to hear from the Russian president a definition of what the Russian military are actually doing in the Middle East. According to him, Russia did not start the war in Syria, but only carries out some operations that are not a real burden to the state budget. "Part of the funds earlier allocated for training and military exercises we have forwarded to our operations in Syria... It’s hard to imagine better drills. We can train there without major problems for our budget," he said.
In addition, Vladimir Putin has traditionally tried to present himself as a peacemaker. He said that there can only be a political solution to the Syrian conflict, so Russia completely agrees with the initiative of the United States to draft a UN resolution on Syria. "We believe that, in general, this is a reasonable proposal, although there is a lot of work on... A political settlement is possible, and there is no other way. There is no other way to solve the problem, but a political one. Our plan coincides with the American proposals in key aspects, as strange as it may seem," he said.
The answer to the question on feasibility of maintaining the airbase in Syria’s Latakia was also interesting: "I do not know, whether we need a base there. It is a structure, money has to be invested. "According to Putin, if Russia needs “to get someone, we'll get him." "So why should we need a base? Temporary stationing is another matter. But letting roots there - I do not know whether it is necessary,” stated the president of the Russian Federation.
This statement, as well as a statement on the willingness to cancel the visa regime with Georgia, as well as a statement that Russia may wish to have its products meet the European standards (just give us the money to make it happen), looks like the first springs of surrender. Moreover, the Russian budget drafted the 2016 budget considering the oil price at $50 per barrel; and now, when the actual price is more than $10 below the set mark, Moscow is forced to recalculate the budget. Meanwhile, the anti-Russian sanctions, which Vladimir Putin has failed to address during his press conference, are likely to be extended for another six months as early as Friday.