Putin pledges cooperation with West despite tensions

Putin pledges cooperation with West despite tensions

Putin says a deep crisis due to Western sanctions over Ukraine and lower oil prices which many had predicted “had not happened.”

By (AFP)

Published: Fri 19 Jun 2015, 9:59 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:58 PM

 Russian President Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras enter a hall for their talks at the St. Petersburg International Investment Forum. -AP

Saint Petersburg - Vladimir Putin told foreign investors on Friday his country would cooperate with the West despite persistent tensions as Russia and Greece agreed to build a gas pipeline amid a debt crisis in Athens.

Speaking at Russia’s premier economic forum against a backdrop of tensions over the Ukraine crisis, the Russian president insisted Moscow was “open to the world.”

“Our active cooperation with new centres of global growth in no case means that we intend to pay less attention to our dialogue with our traditional Western partners,” Putin told the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.

He touted his government’s successes, saying a deep crisis due to Western sanctions over Ukraine and lower oil prices which many had predicted “had not happened.”

“We have stabilised the situation,” he said, appearing in a genial mood.

While many Western leaders shied away from the forum given the standoff over Ukraine, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was the star guest.

The embattled premier met Putin to discuss the debt crisis in Greece, which could default on looming loan payments and possibly leave the eurozone.

“The so-called Greek problem is not a Greek problem, it’s a European problem. The problem is not called Greece, the problem is called Eurozone and it concerns its structure,” the Greek leader said in a keynote speech.

Tsipras — who has blasted sanctions against Russia — said the crisis in Ukraine “opened a new wound of destabilization in the heart of Europe and from that sense it is a bad omen for international developments.”

Although there appeared little chance that Tsipras would receive any bailout from Putin, the two countries did ink a preliminary plan for a new gas pipeline through Greece.

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak estimated the cost of building the Greek link at around two billion euros, adding the total volume of gas pumped will be 47 billion cubic metres.

The two countries will jointly own the venture, and Russia is expected to foot the bill.

“This is the start of a large investment project in Greece that is beneficial to the country’s economy,” said Novak.

Moscow announced the creation of the Turkish Stream project last year after it cancelled its South Stream gas pipeline to southeastern Europe — which was already under construction — as relations with the EU reached a nadir over Ukraine.

While Putin played down Russia’s current economic woes, liberal allies including chief executive of Sberbank German Gref slammed the government’s handling of the crisis.

“We have a gap between our plans and their implementation,” he said in televised remarks, adding that Putin was interested in conducting reforms but “is afraid of making mistakes.”

Putin’s veteran ally and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin on Thursday even proposed bringing forward 2018 presidential polls to help the president conduct sweeping reforms to pull Russia out of the crisis.

“Why do we not bring forward presidential elections and announce a new programme of reforms?” said the widely-respected economist, who is believed to still wield influence behind the scenes.

Kudrin’s proposal unleashed debate, with some seeing it as an attempt to test public opinion and push Putin to conduct radical reforms.

The annual economic forum got off to a rocky start on Thursday amid a new spike in tensions with Brussels, with Russia seeing its state assets in France and Belgium frozen in a row over compensation for shareholders of defunct oil giant Yukos.

Russian officials reacted by saying Moscow was preparing a “judicial response” to the measure, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggesting the freeze was timed to coincide with the forum.

“I am not a fan of conspiracy theories but even if it is a coincidence, of course this works against those who want to work in Russia in a normal way, without some sort of artificial barriers,” Russia’s top diplomat said.

EU member states also agreed this week to extend sanctions against Russia over Ukraine by another six months to the end of January 2016. Moscow threatened to similarly prolong its boycott of certain Western products.

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