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Putin defends Syria policy and dismisses Panama Papers in Russia TV phone-in

Vladimir Putin has used his annual live TV phone-in to say that Russia’s intervention in Syria left the government’s forces there in a position to take the offensive.

The president added that Moscow was doing everything to stop the situation from deteriorating.

By withdrawing its forces, he said, Russia had not “dropped everything”.

“After the main part of our military contingent was withdrawn from Syria we left the Syrian army in a situation which enabled it to mount serious offensive operations with the support of the part of our military which stayed there. And already the Syrian army has taken over Palmyra since our partial withdrawal,” Putin said.

The Russian leader blamed the recent upsurge of fighting around Aleppo on rebel groups, and said the ultimate solution for Syria would not be solved only by military efforts, but had to be political.

“You have to find a solution, to sit at the negotiating table, adopt (a new) constitution and on the basis of that hold elections to get out of the crisis.”

As in previous years, in his 14th such broadcast Putin responded to a variety of questions – from the economy and foreign policy to his personal life.

The Russian president confirmed some details about the Panama Papers, which revealed that some of Putin’s close friends had been moving money around in offshore accounts. But he said there was no illegal activity, and
dismissed the leak as a “provocation”, portraying the scandal as a conspiracy orchestrated by US officials.

The Russian leader denied that his country was “encircled by enemies” such as Ukraine and Turkey, pointing to a number of alliances to prove that Russia was not isolated.

There were some conciliatory references to other countries and leaders with whom Russia has had tense relations.

Putin voiced approval for a proposal from President Poroshenko for armed monitors in Ukraine. Turkey had some problematic politicians but was still a “friendly nation”. Obama was “decent” and “strong” in his “courage” for admitting mistakes over Libya.

But he was not beyond the odd sideswipe.

“If now both Poroshenko and Erdogan were drowning, who would you give a hand to first?” he was asked in a question read out by the programme’s host.

After showing surprise at being told the question came from a 12-year-old girl, Varya Kuznetsova, Putin replied: “If someone decided to get drowned, it is impossible to save them.” As the audience applauded, he went on: “But we are certainly ready to give a helping hand and offer friendship to any of our partners, if they are willing to accept it.”

The president also responded to complaints about the economy, pay arrears and the poor state of Russia’s roads.

Asked whether he might remarry, Putin replied that it wasn’t important but that ‘one day’ he might satisfy the viewer’s curiosity.

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