“Read my Lips: No!” – Putin shoots down Russophobia at Arctic Forum

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March 30, 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Izvestiya, translated by J. Arnoldski – 

The International Arctic Forum bringing together representatives of countries with interest and projects in the Arctic was held today in Arkhangelsk. The event was attended by the presidents of Russia, Finland, and Iceland. The heads of states discussed the environment, resource extraction in the region, and peaceful cooperation in the Arctic. During the discussion on the region’s future, Vladimir Putin commented on Russia’s relations with Ukraine and the US and gave his appraisal of the unsanctioned rallies in Moscow on March 26th. 

Opening the discussion section, Vladimir Putin stated that Russia intends to increase its presence in the Arctic and actively use the Northern Sea Route, for whose development a separate agency will be established. The Finnish President, Sauli Niinisto, focused on environmental problems in the Arctic, noting that warming and pollution will have a negative effect on the entire region’s climate. On this note, Niinisto stressed that economic cooperation in the region must not escalate into “a new Cold War.” Iceland’s leader, Gudni Johannesson, recalled how he learned Russian and admitted that he admires Russian history connected to the Arctic. 

The discussion gradually transitioned over to the “difficulties” in relations between Russia and the West. The initiator of such a change of topic was TV host Geoff Cutmore, who moderated the discussion. When differing approaches to limiting emissions, such as Russia and the US’, were being discussed, Cutmore complained that Americans were not represented at the forum. However, Vladimir Putin immediately pointed out that the moderator had a compatriot present: “First of all, there are Americans. Mr. Ambassador is sitting here, I see,” the Russian leader said, drawing attention to US Ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, in the room. 

This did not satisfy the TV host, however, who then asked Vladimir Putin whether he is ready to meet with US President Donald Trump during the meeting of the Arctic Council to be held in Finland. The Russian leader stated that he is ready for such a meeting, especially as Finland has experience in “fateful events,” such as the signing of the Helsinki Accords. 

Cutmore did not stop there, and remarked that is difficult to talk about US-Russia cooperation in the Arctic given existing differences over Ukraine and Crimea. To the surprise of the presenter, Putin expressed his gratitude for such precise wording. “I knew this is how it would end up,” the president smiled, “First and foremost I want to thank you – you distinguished between Crimea and Ukraine, and this is correct.”

Putin continued: “We perceive and treat the United States as a great power with whom we want to establish very good partner relations. All the rest are lies and fabrications, provocations against Russia. All of these is used for America’s domestic political agenda. And what is this exactly? The anti-Russian card is played in the interests of certain political forces within the US with the aim of raising and consolidating their positions within the United States.”

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The Russian president reminded listeners that the American Ambassador to Russia regularly  meets with various officials and businessmen, and no one hinders him from doing so. “But our ambassador’s contacts in the United States are restricted. Any meeting of his is treated with hostility like some kind of spy action. Is this not nonsense? Why do we have an ambassador? To communicate with people, maintain contacts with the political elite, businessmen, members of Congress and the Senate, members of the government and administration. This is a universal diplomatic practice,” Putin said.

The moderator insisted that it is time to clarify whether Russia interfered in the US presidential elections. The Russian leader responded: “Once Reagan, while discussing new taxes, said: ‘Read my lips: No!’”

When Cutmore’s questions dried up, Vladimir Putin expressed hope that US-Russia relations would successfully return to constructive negotiations, and that both sides would begin cooperating on resolving the Ukrainian conflict as they have done with the Syrian question.

Towards the end of the meeting, the discussion completely digressed from the Arctic topic. The Russian leader was asked to comment on the unsanctioned rallies held in Russia on March 26th. In the West, police actions in arresting protestors were criticized, while the Russian leader believes such an approach to the issue to be interference in a state’s domestic politics. 

“All of these calls are being heard against the backdrop of police-demonstrator violence in Paris in connection with the murder of a citizen in his own home, a Frenchman of Chinese heritage. So we believe that formulating the issue in such a manner and such types of appeals to Russia are purely political issues with the aim of putting some kind of pressure on the domestic political life in the country,” Putin said. 

The head of state also recalled that Russia has been consistently working with an anti-corruption agenda. The president emphasized: “With regards to our domestic political events, we have consistently advocated fighting against corruption, which is quite a serious problem for us – which is by the way less recently, judging by public opinion polls – and other countries. This is relevant and we are doing this and people see it. I personally stand for such issues of the fight against corruption being constantly in the center of public attention. And I always positively perceive peoples’ attention towards these problems.”

However, the Russian leader said, the fight against corruption is often used for the political self-promotion of certain figures. “I think it is wrong when some political forces try to use this tool – unsanctioned protests – for their own selfish interests, and not for improving the situation in the country, but for self-promotion in the political arena on the eve of political events, including election campaigns in the country,” Putin stated.

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“We all perfectly know – and I want to draw your attention to this – that this tool was used in the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring. We very well know what bloody events in the region this led to,” the Russian President summarized. 

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