Luke Harding / The Guardian & Shaun Walker / The Independent – 2008-02-16 23:25:27
Kosovo Breakaway Illegal, Says Putin
Luke Harding / The Guardian
MOSCOW (February 15 2008) — President Vladimir Putin yesterday accused Europe and the United States of double standards over their support for an independent Kosovo, and warned that any declaration of statehood by Pristina would be “illegal, ill-conceived and immoral”.
Putin said that Russia remained utterly opposed to Kosovo breaking away from Serbia. If Kosovo’s Albanian leaders ignored Russian objections and announced independence this Sunday Moscow would be forced to act, he said.
He did not spell out what precisely Russia would do. There has been speculation that Moscow could retaliate by recognising the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the separatist Moldovan enclave of Trans-Dniester.
“Other countries look after their interests. We consider it appropriate to look after our interests. We have done some homework and we know what we will do,” he warned.
Speaking at his annual press conference in the Kremlin – his last before stepping down as president in May – Putin insisted that Kosovo did not deserve special status. “I don’t want to say anything that would offend anyone, but for 40 years northern Cyprus has practically had independence. Why aren’t you recognising that? Aren’t you ashamed, Europeans, for having these double standards?” he said.
He went on: “Why do we promote separatism? For 400 years Great Britain has been fighting for its territorial integrity in respect of Northern Ireland. Why not? Why don’t you support that?” he asked a journalist from German TV.
Putin insisted that “unified rules should be applied” when dealing with separatist conflicts. He complained: “International law doesn’t guard the interests of small countries.” Russia supported Serbia’s call for an urgent meeting on Kosovo at the UN security council, he added.
But Putin hinted that Russia would not ape the west by immediately recognising the independence claims of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Trans-Dniester. “We won’t behave like monkeys,” he said. “If someone backs an illegal and ill-conceived position we will not follow suit. We will react to preserve our interests.”
Putin answered a range of questions in a press conference that lasted four hours and 40 minutes. He talked about pensions, life expectancy, babies, the neglected Far East regions of Chukotka and Vladivostok and – from a female journalist in the balcony – whether he fancied going on a Valentine’s day date. He was at times both funny and pugnacious.
He made it clear that he does not intend to retire from politics once his second term as president expires on May 7. He confirmed he will become Russia’s new prime minister and decisively influence Russia’s political course for a long time – possibly up until 2020.
He said there were moments when being president had been a “heavy burden”. There was a moment of sympathy too for President George Bush – another leader who had shared the cares of high office. “You have to take decisions that nobody else is in a position to take. They are not always pleasant decisions. It isn’t easy. Is it easy for George Bush?” he reflected. “This is where the buck stops.”
Putin warmly praised the man who will take over from him, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s first deputy PM. Medvedev was an “honest, decent and good man”, a colleague of 15 years, and was “progressively oriented” and modest, Putin said.
He predicted: “I’m sure he will be a good president and an efficient leader. Besides, there is personal chemistry [between us]. Simply speaking, I trust him.”
Medvedev is guaranteed to win Russia’s presidential election on March 2 as Putin endorsed him as his successor in December.
Yesterday Putin said Medvedev would have the last word in decision making but said his role as “prime minister” was not a subservient one.
“I would never act as a substitute head of state. But of course I reserve the right to express my views,” Putin declared, saying he too had taken advice from his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Putin also praised Russia’s economic resurgence. He said last year wages went up by 16.9%. Russia was now the world’s seventh largest economy – with rising prosperity and living standards and 3.4 trillion roubles in a stabilisation fund.
But he admitted that his government had failed to deal with inflation which ran to 11.9% last year. The Kremlin also had not managed to get to grips with the widening gap between rich and poor, he said.
Asked whether he had been tempted to go for an unconstitutional third term as president, Putin fired back: “Never.”
“Power is the most addictive thing, the most intoxicating thing. But I have never been addicted to anything,” he said.
He admitted, though, that he was now a bit tired and would like a rest. “Over the years I’ve been working my back off like in a salt mine,” he said
Ukraine Set to Outlaw NATO Bases after Russian Threats
Shaun Walker / The Independent
MOSCOW (14 February 2008) — Last month, Mr Yushchenko and Ukraine’s pro-Western Prime Minister Julia Timoshenko, the pair who led the Orange Revolution in 2004, asked NATO to begin considering Ukrainian membership — a move hugely controversial among a large section of the Ukrainian population and strongly criticised by Moscow.
After meeting the Ukrainian leader on Tuesday, Mr Putin said that NATO membership could well mean that NATO military bases or elements of a planned US missile shield would be placed in Ukraine, and that Russia would be forced to respond. “I am not only terrified to utter this, it is scary even to think it,” said Mr Putin. “Russia would have to target its offensive rocket systems at Ukraine.”
Russian officials have previously suggested that were Ukraine to join NATO, Russia would introduce a visa regime for Ukrainian citizens, complicating the lives of millions of Ukrainians who work in Russia or have relatives there.
Mr Putin’s comments came after the two presidents agreed to a last-minute deal to keep gas flowing between the two countries. Russia had threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine unless a £750m debt was paid for earlier supplies. This caused alarm in European countries, which receive much Russian and central Asian gas through pipes that go through Ukraine. Gas was cut off in 2006 when Russia demanded that Ukraine pay closer to market prices for its gas in what analysts said was retaliation for Ukraine’s pro-Western course. Previously, the country received gas at heavily subsidised rates.
Ms Timoshenko, who began a second stint as prime minister late last year and has strongly criticised Russia on many occasions, has said that the debt this time was caused by shady intermediary companies that were brought into the equation after the 2006 stand-off. She demanded that Ukraine buy gas from the Russian company Gazprom directly, rather than using the current opaque system.
The deal reached in Moscow this week seems to satisfy both sides for now, but Russian-Ukrainian relations are still fraught with difficulty. Ukrainian citizens in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country have complained that a raft of discrimiNATOry legislation has been passed in recent months. One of the most controversial was a law stating that cinemas could only show films that were dubbed into Ukrainian. Many cinemas in the Russian-speaking parts of the country have simply closed down.
Earlier in the week, 50 MPs from the Party of the Regions stopped the work of the Ukrainian parliament by blocking the rostrum and waving balloons in the colour of the Ukrainian flag inscribed with “No to NATO!” The party is headed by Viktor Yanukovich, who was defeated by Mr Yushchenko in the re-run presidential election that followed the Orange Revolution.
He is demanding a plebiscite on NATO accession and yesterday in Moscow, Mr Yushchenko appeared to accede to that demand, saying that a referendum would be held “in good time”.
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