Putin de­fends Iran mis­sile de­ci­sion dur­ing call-in show


Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin sternly urged the West to re­spect Rus­sia’s in­ter­ests in global af­fairs and de­fended his move to sanc­tion the de­liv­ery of a long-range air de­fense mis­sile sys­tem to Iran dur­ing a marathon TV call-in show with the na­tion Thurs­day.

Putin scathingly crit­i­cized Wash­ing­ton for re­fus­ing to see Moscow as an equal part­ner and warned that Rus­sia-West ties, in sham­bles over the Ukrainian cri­sis, could only be nor­mal­ized when the U.S. and its al­lies show readi­ness for com­pro­mise.

He also de­scribed the killing of top Krem­lin critic Boris Nemtsov as “tragic and shame­ful” and said he wasn’t cer­tain if Rus­sian lawen­force­ment agen­cies would be able to track down those who or­ga­nized it.

The pres­i­dent fo­cused heav­ily on eco­nomic is­sues dur­ing the show, a slickly pro­duced hours-long an­nual af­fair in­tended to bur­nish his im­age.

He said the na­tion’s eco­nomic per­for­mance has re­mained strong, de­spite West­ern sanc­tions slapped on Rus­sia over the Ukrainian cri­sis and a slump in global oil prices. He pointed at the ru­ble’s re­cov­ery as a sign of a re­newed in­vestor con­fi­dence in Rus­sia.

Putin, whose ap­proval rat­ings top 80 per­cent de­spite the re­ces­sion, said the coun­try can over- come any chal­lenges if it re­mains united.

Turn­ing to for­eign pol­icy is­sues, Putin said his de­ci­sion to lift a 2010 Rus­sian ban on the de­liv­ery of the pow­er­ful S-300 air de­fense mis­sile sys­tem to Iran fol­lowed a ten­ta­tive deal on end­ing the Ira­nian nu­clear stand­off reached by Tehran and six world pow­ers ear­lier this month.

He said Iran should be re­warded for show­ing “a great de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity and a de­sire to reach com­pro­mise” in the talks. He said the S-300 is a de­fen­sive weapon that shouldn’t pose any threat to Is­rael, and may in fact serve as “a de­ter­rent fac­tor in con­nec­tion with the sit­u­a­tion in Ye­men.”

Putin said that Rus­sia would con­tinue to co­op­er­ate with its in­ter­na­tional part­ners on ne­go­ti­at­ing a de­fin­i­tive nu­clear deal with Iran. He ar­gued that the in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions against Iran still in place don’t ban the de­liv­ery of the S-300, which Rus­sia had halted vol­un­tar­ily.

He ar­gued that Rus­sia re­mains open for over­com­ing the cur­rent ten­sions with the West, but warned Wash­ing­ton that it should stop treat­ing Moscow as an in­fe­rior part­ner if it wants good ties.

He also crit­i­cized Ukraine, ac­cus­ing it of vi­o­lat­ing its obligations un­der Fe­bru­ary’s peace deal by main­tain­ing an eco­nomic block­ade on re­bel­lious eastern re­gions, re­fus­ing to de­liver pen­sions and other so­cial pay­ments to peo­ple in the east, and shut­ting fi­nan­cial ser­vices to the re­gion.

Putin ar­gued that the Ukrainian lead­er­ship is ef­fec­tively cut­ting off the eastern re­gions from the rest of the coun­try. At the same time, the Rus­sian pres­i­dent in­sisted that he re­mains com­mit­ted to co­op­er­at­ing with the Ukrainian pres­i­dent to over­come the cri­sis, adding that the Minsk agree­ment signed in Fe­bru­ary pro­vides the only way out of it.

He reaf­firmed a strong de­nial of Ukrainian and West­ern claims that Rus­sia has sent troops to back the rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Asked about the killing of Nemtsov, who was shot dead just out­side the Krem­lin on Feb. 27, Putin praised Rus­sian lawen­force­ment agen­cies for nab­bing the sus­pected per­pe­tra­tors, but said he doesn’t know if it will be pos­si­ble to track down the mas­ter­mind.

The five sus­pects, all Chechens, have re­mained in cus­tody. Ob­servers say their ar­rest has high­lighted ten­sions be­tween Rus­sian lawen­force­ment agen­cies and Chech­nya’s Krem­lin-backed strongman, Ramzan Kady­rov.

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