Putin Discusses Sanctions, Syria, And Stockpiling Nukes In Marathon Year-End Q&A

In keeping with an annual tradition that has persisted since shortly after his election to the highest office in the Russian Federation, Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual end-of-year marathon Q&A session Thursday in downtown Moscow. This year, the Kremlin said it has accredited more than 1,700 journalists to participate, according to ABC.

Putin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who accompanies Putin on stage and calls on journalists, told media ahead of the event that Putin would focus on domestic issues, and also every "aggressive and hostile" international situation involving Russia - of which there are many. And during the press conference, Putin has, so far, delivered, commenting on every contemporary controversy, from the diplomatic incident between Russia and Ukraine, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the US's decision - made barely a day ago - to withdraw troops from Syria, the US's intention to withdraw from the INF and the looming possibility of another round of sanctions, which are currently under consideration in the US Congress.

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So far, the response that has attracted the most attention was a comment on the US's impending withdrawal from the INF, a Soviet-era arms control treaty that limits the number of intermediate-range nuclear arms that can be deployed by both sides. Echoing past comments, Putin warned once again that the breakdown of the international arms control framework and lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons might eventually lead to "a global nuclear catastrophe."

By withdrawing from the ABM 17 years ago, the US forced Russia to develop new nuclear weapons like the hypersonic weapons about which the US GAO warned earlier this week. So, if the US does follow through with the INF withdrawal, "they should not squeak later" Putin said. "We know how to ensure our safety."

Russia

Putin asserted that the number of news stories warning about the prospects for nuclear war have risen recently. Putin said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, people thought the prospects for nuclear war had fallen. But in reality, they have remained roughly steady, according to RT.

"The danger of such developments coming true is being blurred or is going away, it is deemed impossible or unimportant," Putin said. "Meanwhile, if, God forbid, something like that happens, it would see an entire civilization - or even the planet - perish."

He added that the prospects for deploying ballistic missiles without nuclear warheads also persists. "This is horrible, it shouldn’t come to this. Nevertheless, an idea to use ballistic missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads still persists."

Putin regretted that "the international arms-control system is effectively breaking down now."

He also noted that "there are no talks" so far between the US and Russia to renew the New START arms control treaty which is due to expire in 2021.

"Not interested? Don’t need it? Well, alright then. We’ll survive with that, we will ensure our security. We know how to do that."

Moving on to domestic issues, Putin responded to a question about the looming possibility of more US sanctions, saying the Russian economy has already adapted to the international sanctions regime - which first came into being after the annexation of Crimea - and that any further sanctions would be ineffective.

Instead, the sanctions have "backfired" on those imposing them, Putin said, according to the Financial Times.

"Additional measure to contain the Russian Federation make no sense. Our economy has been adjusting itself to these restrictions," Mr Putin said. "It is detrimental to everyone, but our economy has adapted, it has adjusted itself to the sanctions."

In an interesting question, one reporter asked if socialism could be restored in Russia.

A journalist attracted Putin’s attention with a placard saying "KGB and children." The question is about social justice and nostalgia about USSR. "Can socialism be restored in Russia?" Putin doesn’t believe so. The Russian society has changed too much to turn back into what it was during Soviet Union.

Asked about President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria, Putin said US troops had been in the country illegally, and that the decision to withdraw them was "the right decision."

"Donald's right and I agree with him," Putin said.

Moving on to the subject of Russia's international finances, Putin confirmed that Russia has been reducing its holdings of US Treasurys (something we've pointed out in the past).

He also said he has no plans to ban the US dollar in Russia, and that he doesn't know whether he will meet US President Trump in the near future (they had been planning another summit for early next year). Russia will be ready to normalize relations with the US when the the US is ready, Putin said.

Typically, Putin's Q&A goes on for at least three hours, but with the broad number of issues that need to be addressed, it's likely that this year's press conference could continue for significantly longer.

Watch the event live below: