Russian President Vladimir Putin is giving a huge press conference today that’s likely to last several hours, speaking about his country’s economy and the collapse of the ruble.
Putin is also addressing Russia’s conflicts with the West.
For those who want to follow along, several English-speaking journalists, including Max Seddon of BuzzFeed and Paul Sonne of the Wall Street Journal, are tweeting translations of Putin’s statements. NBC News is carrying a live stream with an English translation.
The ruble weakened against the dollar ahead of the press conference.
Early in the press conference, Putin commented on Russia’s currency crisis. He said it has been “provoked by external factors” and that the central bank and government are taking adequate measures to deal with the current economic situation.
He also insisted that “growth is inevitable” and that Russia could dig itself out of the crisis in two years at most.
Putin said he’s optimistic because he thinks the economy will eventually adjust to low fuel prices. He also said that Russia must step up efforts to diversify the economy so that Russia is not so reliant on oil.
Before discussing the ruble crisis, Putin opened the press conference on a higher note, citing 2014 GDP growth of 0.6% and noting that Russia saw a record agricultural harvest despite turbulence in financial markets.
He later shied away from calling the ruble collapse a “crisis.”
“I don’t think I can call the situation a ‘crisis;’ you can call it whatever you want,” he said, adding that the central bank and government are taking the correct approach.
He also blamed Russia’s current economic situation partly on western sanctions over Ukraine.
Russia’s economy is widely expected to fall into a recession next year due to collapsing oil prices and western sanctions. Russia’s currency has fallen over 40% against the dollar and the euro since June, hitting an all-time record low of 80 rubles to the dollar and 100 roubles to the euro earlier this week.
Putin noted that the country’s central bank has reserves of $US419 billion, which he said is enough to maintain the current “social situation” in Russia.
Despite the country’s economic troubles, Russians still widely support Putin. His approval rating hit record highs this year, with 80% of Russians saying they support him.
Putin also addressed tensions with the West.
“Our Western partners decided that they won and they they are an empire, and they began to squeeze everyone else out,” he said.
He also referenced the Berlin wall, saying that new “virtual” walls are being built through a NATO expansion.
“We want our partners to understand that the best way is to stop building those walls and to build a united humanitarian space,” Putin said.
Putin later implied that the West is trying to disarm Russia.
He compared the country to a bear and said the West “will always try to put it in chains and … take out its teeth and claws, which in this case means our strategic nuclear deterrent.”
Putin concluded by asking: “Do we want our bear to just become a stuffed animal?”
A Ukrainian journalist asked Putin how many soldiers Putin sent to Ukraine and what he told the families of dead soldiers.
Putin claimed that Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine are volunteers and couldn’t be called mercenaries because they’re not paid. He also blamed Kiev for starting the conflict.
“The problem is that after the coup d’etat … instead of starting a political dialogue, the new authorities started using law enforcement officers,” Putin said “When that didn’t work out, they started using the army; when that didn’t work out, they started using other means, such as an economic blockade.”
He didn’t address how many Russian fighters are in Ukraine and didn’t give a death toll from the conflict.
Another journalist asked if the current economic crisis is somehow payback for Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
He said the troubles with the ruble aren’t payback for Crimea, but rather “payback for our natural desire to survive as a nation.”
“It’s not a matter of Crimea; we are defending our independence, our sovereignty and our right to exist, we should all understand this,” he said.
Putin also compared the invasion of Crimea to taking Texas from Mexico, claiming that Russia is just managing its own territories and protecting its sovereignty.
Putin was asked if he regrets pardoning Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s former richest man and owner of the country’s biggest oil company, because he recently said he wants to be president.
To that Putin replied: “President of which country?”
Putin said he ordered the pardon because Khodorkovsky’s mother was ill, and a mother is a “sacred thing.”
He added that he doesn’t regret it. Khodorkovsky spent a decade in prison for fraud and was released last year.
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