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Ukraine, China & 2024 retirement plans: Key takeaways from Putin's 15th annual press chat

Ukraine, China & 2024 retirement plans: Key takeaways from Putin's 15th annual press chat
At his annual year-end press conference, Vladimir Putin addressed his presumed retirement in 2024, the situation in Ukraine, domestic issues around healthcare and demographics, and relations with China, among many other topics.

Thursday's Moscow event was the 15th in as many years of Putin's presidency, and finished up as one of the longest. The Russian president sat for four hours and 18 minutes, taking around 80 questions from 57 journalists, of which he answered about 77. Some 1,895 reporters representing Russian and foreign media received accreditation for the conference, with many more watching online.

The climate crisis was the first topic. Putin appeared to cast doubt upon the Western mainstream scientific consensus that humans are responsible for the transformation, but he acknowledged the problem exists. “No one knows the reasons for global climate change,” he remarked. “It's hard, if it's even possible, to estimate human impact but it doesn't mean that we should sit around & do nothing.”


Only last week, the president held his first meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris. At the press conference, Putin said he was “alarmed” by Zelensky's post-meeting statements about reviewing the Minsk accords, but says he is open to another summit (which Russian media speculates will happen in April).

We have nothing except the Minsk agreement. If we revisit this we are at a dead end.

The deal, crafted in the Belarusian capital in 2015, requires Kiev to alter its Constitution and grant “special status” to the mainly Russian-speaking Donbass region.

Also on rt.com Dialogue between Kiev & people in eastern Ukraine needed to resolve conflict – Putin

Although his predecessor Petro Poroshenko (now Ukraine's de facto opposition leader) signed up to the plan, it's implementation is considered impossible for Zelensky. Even if he somehow got it through Parliament, he lacks the strength to face down extreme nationalists who would surely take to the streets in protest. If this happened a “third Maidan” is possible, potentially leaving Ukraine in complete anarchy and threatening the business interests of Ukrainian oligarchs, including Zelensky's own sponsor, the billionaire Igor Kolomoysky.

Also on the subject of Ukraine, Putin stated that Russia wants to negotiate a new gas transit arrangement with its neighbor (despite the NordStream 2 direct pipeline to Germany soon coming online). Putin said he would like to ensure Ukrainian consumers get reasonably priced gas & that supplies to Europe are guaranteed.

2024 end of term: Speculations swirl

Next year, the president will approach the midway point of his final term in the Kremlin. As a result, speculation about the 2024 transition of power is growing. Putin says he wants to remove the word “consecutive” from the Russian Constitution's rules on presidential term limits. So, basically, any president can serve two periods (like the US) before being blocked from standing again. The US introduced these restrictions after experiencing its own four-time president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Interestingly, Putin has repeatedly invited comparisons between himself and the erstwhile US leader, going all the way back to the mid-2000s.

Indeed, many in Russia argue that the president rescued his country from the chaotic, anarchic, and destitute 1990s in a similar fashion to how Roosevelt dragged America out of the Great Depression.

Such a change would presumably mean Putin will have to retire in 2024. And Russian journalists, and analysts, have interpreted it this way. However, some US/UK media reporters, on the Russia beat, believe it may be a “cunning way” of resetting the rules so Putin can have another term, or terms, before the new limits apply. Although sources in Moscow ridiculed this theory on Thursday night.

Putin also floated the possibility of Russia switching to a more parliamentary style of government which would give the prime minister (currently Dmitry Medvedev) more control, ending the “hyper-presidential” system introduced by Boris Yeltsin in 1993 (with US support). A move like this would mean future leaders won't have Putin's sort of power, as the presidency would be downgraded.

He also referenced Russia's demographic problems (the population fell this year after a decade of small rises), noting how the number of potential young mothers, aged 21-29, has fallen by four million. This is the effect of the 1990s economic carnage which crushed birth rates, as many people worried about basic survival.

Home front

Closer to home, responding to calls for Vladimir Lenin to be taken out of his Red Square mausoleum and buried, Putin (who has always made it clear he's not a fan of the Bolshevik revolutionary) wasn't very keen. He insisted there's “no need to touch him” whilst people are still alive who remember the USSR in a positive fashion and continue to celebrate Soviet achievements within their lifetimes.

Regarding journalist Ivan Golunov, whose June arrest on spurious drug charges caused outrage in Russia, Putin pointed out that five police have been fired, with criminal cases opened against them. He rejected the idea of “cleansing” police ranks, likening such a notion to the 1937 Stalinist purges.

A reporter from BBC Russia asked Putin to comment on his daughters, following media reports on their alleged business and work interests. Putin, who generally avoids discussing his family publicly, didn't answer the question.

Also on rt.com Russia only seeks to protect itself from foreign meddling – Putin on ‘sovereign internet’ & ‘foreign agents’ laws

Looking abroad: US & China

Putin commented on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. “I'm not so sure he'll be leaving (office),” he quipped, blaming Democrat skulduggery and lingering resentment over Hillary Clinton's 2016 defeat. “They accused him of plotting with Russia, and when that turned out not to be true, they made up smears about Ukraine.”

Asked about China, the president made it clear that Russia doesn't have a military alliance with Beijing and isn't planning to start one. He says Moscow is helping the Chinese with defensive military upgrades in the spirit of partnership, not in the sense of NATO-style binding promises.

Also on rt.com Russia has no ‘military alliance’ with China, but the US is seeking a military bloc in East Asia – Putin

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